Food Runners

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Family Affair

By Trudi Michael, Volunteer
On-Call Runner
The Michael Family (clockwise from left): Joe, Trudi, Cecile
My connection with Food Runners goes way back. At some point in the early 90’s, my dad Joe Michael was approaching retirement and started taking cooking classes at Tante Marie’s Cooking School to fill his time and expand his already sharp culinary skills. He soon met Mary Risley and promptly fell under her spell, as one is apt to do. In no time at all, she had him onboard and fully committed to being one of her first Food Runners. Meanwhile, I also met Mary at Tante Marie’s, which was just up the street from Williams-Sonoma’s headquarters where I worked off-and-off for almost two decades. Mary was a long time close friend of Chuck Williams, so we frequented the school for team-building events and special celebrations.
                    Chuck Williams                                                         Mary Risley
Joe had a regular food run, picking up from Il Fornaio, which was a fixture for decades along the Embarcadero until it closed late last year. The restaurant and bakery was on the way home from the South End Rowing Club in Aquatic Park, where Joe was a member and swam every day before dawn, regardless of the water temperatures. He would fill his car with dozens of leftover breads and pastries and head to Martin de Porres to drop them off, most likely taking a nibble en route. Folks would often gather there, awaiting his arrival and knowing that top-notched baked goods would round out their morning meal. This routine carried on for about 20 years until Joe passed away in 2011.

That year I lost my dad and my job within a few months of each other. To put it mildly, I was a hot mess and was desperate for something meaningful to not only occupy my day, but also provide me with a sense of purpose and renewal. Somehow I put it together and realized that becoming a Food Runner was the perfect solution. I could carry on my dad’s legacy while doing good for the SF community, providing food to those in need and feeding my soul at the same time.

These days, Food Runners is still a family affair. As a long time supporter of the organization, my mom Cecile regularly attends donor appreciation dinners at Mary’s house, and I join for the volunteer parties. After many years of having a weekly run, I’ve switched to being a floater, picking up runs here and there as my schedule allows. Regardless of the route or the people I encounter along the way, running food always reminds me of Joe, bringing me back to him again and again.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

What it Means to Me

By Mary Risley, Director

As I approach my 80th Birthday, I have been thinking about how fortunate I am!  Just think I could have been born into a family with an absent father and an addicted mother; I could have been born into a family where all the kids were born before the mother was 24 years old; or, I could have been born with mental health problems and no possible care.  Nothing is for sure in this world!  I could be an addict myself hanging out around the corner; I could be cleaning houses for a living; or, I could be living on the streets in San Francisco, unable to take care of myself responsibly.  So could we all!  I sincerely believe that not living on the streets is a matter of having good luck; making good decisions; and having the right guidance in life.

As a resident of San Francisco for the last 50 years, I still don’t know what I can do to help the homeless with housing; but, what I do know is I can help get them food.  And so can you!  Thanks so much to the Volunteers, one paid truck driver, and several part-time couriers of Food Runners who, together, are making almost 700 food runs a week which amounts to approximately 18 tons of perishable and prepared foods to agencies feeding the hungry in San Francisco.

If I were living on the streets, one place for sure I could count on for help is a drop-in center on Kearny near Broadway.  Although they do not cook here, they put out donated food every weekday and offer it to anyone who comes in.  They also help clients find housing, perhaps part-time work, and they host a Food Pantry once a week, where people can get a bag of groceries.  So, far 350 people have transitioned from the streets to housing through North Beach Citizens since it started in 1971.

Here is a photo of Food Runner Volunteer, Andy Chen, delivering donated food from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Nob Hill last Monday.  Food Runner Volunteers pick up from the Ritz every day of the week, leftover food that they store on a rolling cart in the walk-in until picked up by a Food Runner Volunteer at the loading dock on California St.

f I were living on the streets near the freeway, I would hang out and eat at Martin de Porres.  It has a welcoming and sharing atmosphere.  The Volunteers of Martins do the cooking mostly with donated food and help serve daytime meals 7 days a week to over 300 guests each day.

Here is a photo of what Dennis Curry picked up at Noe Valley Farmers Market last Saturdays and delivered to Martin de Porres on Potrero near 16th St.  This is a wonderful drop-in center where guests can also hang out in the courtyard, get showers, and receive mail.  It first opened in 1971.

Currently, Food Runners is delivering this 18 tons of food each week to over 300 agencies feeding the hungry in San Francisco.  Here for you are two of my favourite feeding programs.  You too can become a Food Runner Volunteer and help get donated food to people in need.  And, you can tell your friends about out remarkable non-profit grassroots organization, which soon will begin our 33rd year.  Better still, send money and/or ask your friends to  donate through

Thanks so very much for your continued support,  Mary

Monday, September 30, 2019

101 Runs!

By Joanna Karlinsky

Tory Farms: one of the most prolific donors at Ferry Building Farmers Market, part of my 101 runs.
Restaurant owners don’t throw anything away that can be sold, offered free to guests, given to staff, or taken home to feed the family. Chefs don’t order an ounce more food than they can sell or feed staff with.  We think about food costs every day.  As the chef & restaurant owner of the long-shuttered Meetinghouse, Elite Café and Sweet Jo’s Café I know this well.  In the 30 years I’ve been aware of Foodrunners, I’ve never had leftover or excess food to donate, other than preparing something special for a fundraiser.  I’m retired now and had the occasion to spend my summer here in San Francisco making food run after food run.

Large tech company cafeteria donation. Another of my 101 runs!
I spent my runs getting to know the staff at donor businesses, from tech companies to bakeries, meeting the staff at the recipient agencies, from group homes to veteran’s services, and chatting with those receiving the food. They are always so grateful; the staff (almost) always helpful. The pride that comes with knowing you helped to keep food from the compost bin is very fulfilling.
Kara's Cupcakes. Best ever!
My favorite run, hands down, is Kara’s Cupcakes. You pick up from their manufactory in Dogpatch and they always have more than the church kindergarten can use.  So, I get to decide where to drop off the few other boxes. And I ‘work it’.  I run over to the senior center where the guys come out to help by lining up for a big ‘pass the food’ production. It’s one big box of the best cupcakes in the country. Then next to the All-Star hotel where the residents are always friendly, and full of thanks. Next to the daytime drop-in program at Arriba Juntos where the staff is smiles and jumps up to help when they see me walk in.
Bananas being donated at Mollie Stone's
Last weekend Food Runners dispatch got a call from some very panicked techies at a weekend ‘hackathon’ for girls. Apparently, they’d ordered breakfast for 150 twice. I got there to pick up the extra 20 pans of breakfast and @½ of the uneaten first order. You know how girls eat, right? When I was loading up one lovely young lady came running out to say she thought they’d have lunch leftovers as well.  I returned a bit latter to find 14 FULL buffet pans of Mexican food.  Fantastic until a pan of chicken in mole sauce spilled all over my truck. Honestly... the look on the faces of the people at the 4 group homes I delivered to was totally worth the mole. I have extended my stay in San Francisco through the holidays. I look forward to the food I’ll pick up and relay from parties & events to those with too little to party at all. 
Donation made especially for Food Runners, being picked up at Piperade Restaruant.
Advice: tarp and then put cardboard down on the area you’ll place food for travel. Looking to volunteer but feeling shy?  Just want to gossip about how much fun it is?   Message me and we can talk! Joanna Karlinsky

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

16 Years

by Nancy Hahn
Food Runners Dispatcher &
Volunteer Coordinator
Retired, 8.31.2019
Nancy on last day. Pictured with with Food Runners Executive Director Linda Murley (l.) and Nancy's replacement,  new Dispatcher and Volunteer Coordinator, Eileen Wong (r.)
“Do you think Doug would be right for the job?” Mary asked her assistant Peggy.  Doug had been helping with the “party” classes at Mary’s Tante Marie's Cooking School for some months. “No,” Peggy replied. "I don’t think Doug is a good fit, but his wife Nancy is looking for a job ad I think she might be." And so it began. 
Nancy in the Food Runners office making the magic happen.
In April of 2003, my son Erik was five months old. Time to go back to work. I was weeks away from looking for a job when Mary called. After the shortest, most to-the-point job interview I’d ever had, I was hired to be the Volunteer Coordinator and Dispatcher for Food Runners. My first order of business was doing a food run to Real Foods on Polk Street with delivery to North Beach Citizens. I was hooked on the Food Runners mission immediately. The experience was gratifying and full of meaning. I knew then that asking Volunteers to do food runs was going to be a privilege and a pleasure.

Nancy at Food Runners 30th Anniversary Party, April 2017.
In the early years, my work included the challenge of  convincing businesses to donate their excess food. Gradually people came to know us, trust us, and understand the importance of our mission.  
-->Then tech came to town.  A lot of tech. Suddenly companies were feeding their employees in-house regularly.  There was an abundance of excess food.  Around the same time, the issue of food waste exploded in the media, increasing awareness nationwide.  Donations began pouring in. Food Runners went from picking up an average of 10 tons per week in 2003 to 16 tons per week by 2014. Today, Food Runners picks up approxiamtely 18 tons of food per week that might otherwise go to waste. That’s the equivalent of 24,000 meals per week. 
Nancy accepting $250 donation raised by Holy Name Middle School students Raven and Sara.
The rise of tech created new challenges beyond merely scaling to the increased volume. Many of the tech companies resided in congested downtown areas with nowhere that a Volunteer in a car could pull up even for a quick curbside hand off. Thus, in 2014, Food Runners instituted a Bike Courier program.  Two years later, in response to rapidly increasing demand, Food Runners added two part-time Van Drivers to pick up congested area donations too large for the bike trailers.  My duties between 2003-2019 went from managing 200 Volunteers and one full time truck driver for 200 pick ups per week to managing 400 Volunteers, one full-time Truck Driver, three Bike Couriers and two Van Drivers for an average of 700 pick ups per week.  

Nancy and Volunteer Sally G at Food Runners bi-annual Volunteer Appreciation Party. May 2019.
But, the best part of my job as Food Runners Dispatcher and Volunteer Coordinator, has always been the relationships. From Volunteers like Eloise Joans, the first Food Runners Volunteer I ever met, to Recipients like Kristy Fairchild, Director of North Beach Citzens, to Donors Jo Licata, Community Projects Manager at the SF Hilton, it’s the relationships that have meant the most. Beyond preventing waste and alleviating hunger, it is the Food Runners community that fills my heart. It’s been a great ride. I am grateful for the opportunity to have served such a special organization for sixteen meaningful years. Thank you, everyone. 


Monday, August 5, 2019


By Tim Campbell 
Food Runners Volunteer and Advocate
Tim Campbell picking up food donations at Mollie Stone's on California St.
Food Runners is dedicated to collecting surplus perishable and prepared food and distributing it to those who DO want and need it. We help people survive the daily struggle that life can often present. I have been volunteering with Food Runners for more than 3 years. I do several food runs each week and also help Food Runners by representing the agency at community forums. We can be proud that Food Runners is doing its part to help the planet. We are part of a growing global effort to reduce food waste. Every ounce of food we share is an ounce that is kept out of our landfills. Food Runners new director, Linda Murley, and I were privileged to participate in the Master Food Preserver event and panel discussion in Half Moon Bay recently. What we learned astounded us. Special credit must be given to the other panelists, Zia MacWilliams from the Second Harvest Food Bank and Laura Moreno a PHD candidate studying food waste, for their incredible contributions to the discussion.

-90% of the food wasted in the U.S. ends up in landfills-
Food Runners truck picking up large donation.

Landfills are not designed to take dumped food and break it down. The mountains of garbage you see in these dumps actually inhibits decomposition. Underneath the surface layer of these mounds there is virtually no oxygen for the survival of the bacteria that is needed for decomposition. In fact, the opposite is true. What is actually being generated is methane gas which is a greenhouse gas 20 to 25 times more harmful to the ozone layer than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere. We learned that it can take as much as 25 years for a head of lettuce to decompose in landfill!

-800 million people are starving in the world, 40 million in the U.S. alone-
Ferry Building Farmer's market donations.
 Food that would otherwise go to waste. 
One of the truly alarming facts shared at the meeting had to do with the enormous amount of household food waste in America. Encouraged by marketing behemoths to buy, buy, buy the average person wastes 238 pounds of food per year (21 percent of the food they buy), costing them $1,800 per year. I know that going forward I’ll be even more vigilant in keeping food waste out of my black garbage bin. I hope you’ll join me in that effort.


Runners Hint: Keep a large garbage bag and/or a small box in your car for redistributing food from large or heavy donations.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Food Runners Goes to the Grocery Store

by Mark and Fred Sherman, Volunteers
with Linda Murley, Food Runners Executive Director

Volunteer Fred arriving for pick up at  Mollie Stone's
Food Runners has many donation partners in San Francisco: restaurants, bakeries, caterers, tech cafeterias. Among our most generous donors are local grocery stores: Bi-Rite Market, Gus’s Community Market, Mollie Stone’s, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Whole Foods has been donating perishable food to Food Runners for 22 years.

Food Runners Volunteers, through their service to others, convey community to recipients. Recipients like Hamilton Recreation Center and All Saints' Episcopal Church in the Haight.

Food Runners deliveries at Hamilton Rec Center (L.) and All Saints' Episcopal Church (R.)
Food Runners father and son Volunteer team Fred and Mark Sherman shared their experience from a recent food run they did together picking up donations from Trader Joe’s and Mollie Stone’s.

“What struck me about both runs is that Food Runners has the fastest time to benefit of any charity that I know of,” said Mark. “What struck my Dad is how it generates appreciation x 2. Meaning that the volunteers are appreciative of the donors and the clients or recipients are appreciative of the volunteers. It’s great karma all way.

Father (Fred) and Son (Mark) picking up donations at Trader Joe's.
Some of last Saturday’s perishable and prepared food donations from Gus’sCommunity Market, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s went to the weekly food pantry at the San Francisco Friends (Quaker) Meeting. The Friends estimate 150 individuals attend the SOMA pantry each week. The peppers, lettuce, mushrooms and strawberries made the pantry a kaleidoscope of color.

For some of us, San Francisco is a city of abundance. A city of tall buildings, million dollar homes and endless Uber rides. For those on the fringe of abundance, those struggling with housing, healthcare, childcare, Food Runners and our grocery store partners convey nutrition and community connection.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Big Tech Donates to San Franciscans in Need

Linda Murley & Nancy Hahn
Food Runners

Food Runners Bike Courier Josean H transporting tech company excess lunch for delivery.

The tech company office is airy and bright. In the reception area, two leather chairs make wait time incurred feel like a trip to the spa. The clack of computer keys echoes through the large open style office. Welcome to the technosphere work world where all the comforts of home are at an employee’s fingertips; including lunch.
Steps away from these companies in San Francisco’s tech corridor are low-income housing units, shelters, halfway houses and a drop-in center run by two nuns. This is the dichotomy of have and have not in San Francisco.
Contributions from corporate cafeterias at Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, and Zynga result in donations to Food Runners every workday. Smaller firms like Udemy, Carta, Canvas and Minted, who serve catered meals on a daily basis, also donate their leftovers.

Food Runners van delivering sizable tech company donation.
Food Runners is glad of the tech companies who donate their surplus food. Conscientious corporate cafeteria chefs take the time to incorporate Food Runners into their kitchen’s regular service routine. This means wrapping leftover food so it can be safely transported to programs serving those in need.
Some tech companies sponsor in-house community giving/team building events. Team members make lunches especially for donation to Food Runners. Twitter’s “Friday for Good” was held on May 17. Twitter employees made 2,500 bagged lunches for those in need. Ten Food Runners Volunteers and both of our part time van drivers relayed the lunches to low-income apartment buildings in SOMA, the Mission, the Western Addition and the Tenderloin. 

Long time Volunteer Rachel K picking Twitter "Friday for Good" lunches.
Other programs benefitting from Twitter’s “Friday for Good” were Veteran’s Commons, a program housing formerly homeless veterans living with disabilities, and supported senior programs at Mission Terrace and Mary Helen Rodgers Community Arnett Watson Apartments, supportive housing for families who are low income or homeless, also received donations of food. Getting food to who needs it the most is the mission of Food Runners.

Smaato employees making bag lunches for donation to Food Runners, November 6, 2018.
Without Food Runners, hundreds of pounds of edible food leftover from tech company meals would end up in the compost.  Instead, excess food becomes a healthy meal for San Francisco seniors, families, and children in need.   

Friday, May 3, 2019

Volunteering with Our Hands and Our Hearts

by Eileen Wong
Food Runners Weekend Dispatcher

Donna W. loading donations at the Ferry Building Farmers Market
They’re strong, they’re kind, they’re humble and they’re compassionate. Who are they? They are our Food Runners volunteers. They pack the food in their cars to deliver to our neighborhood feeding programs.   What would Food Runners do without them?

We wouldn’t be possible. We simply could never afford to support thousands of San Franciscans without the generosity and talent offered by our volunteers.  Some do their runs solo, some with partners or friends, some as a family, but whatever form they choose for their runs, the impact they bring to our neighborhoods is truly inspiring.

Food Runners Volunteer Appreciation Party in full swing, 4.17.2019
To show appreciation to the volunteers, Mary Risley, hosts a gathering at her residence twice a year. We enjoy libations, light supper.  We meet, mingle, and share our Food Runners stories with one another. Like Jaime’s story from the most recent Volunteer gathering on April 17.  Jaime told about her food run delivering food to North Beach Citizens on Kearny near Broadway one bright, sunny morning. While unloading the food, her activity caught the eye of a dapper young man passing by. He inquired as to her mission which led to which led to discussion of her community service and ended with the two making plans for a dinner date.

Volunteers enjoying the party. Clockwise from top left: FR Director Mary Risley &
Mark B. Dave R & Priscilla S.  Les T. & Sue L. Mat R & Tory M.
After performing one of her very first runs, Volunteer Jodi shared her story via email. "I grew up in the Sunset, where yesterday's run was. Lycee Francais [the pick up location] used to be the Conservatory of Music and I took summer classes there for a couple of years as a kid. More recently I went to a number of chamber music concerts there with my parents before the Conservatory moved. Now my mom is in assisted living two blocks away. Edgewood Center, where I delivered the food,  started out as an orphanage. My mother escaped the Nazis on the Kindertransport (from Vienna), and when she and her brother came to the States, they spent time at Edgewood. When I was telling the guys who helped me unload the food this story, one of them said his father had escaped Czechoslovakia on the Kindertransport. (The Kindertransport saved close to 10,000 Jewish children during the war.)

More Volunteers chillin' at the party.
There’s no doubt how incredibly grateful we are for all that Food Runners Volunteers do.  Not only do they deliver food, but they also deliver love, kindness and commitment in the quest to alleviate hunger in our communities and make wasted food a thing of the past.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Seniors in San Francisco

by Nancy Hahn
Director of Operations/
Volunteer Coordinator

Full meal donations from Kaiser. Perfect for delivery to apartment buildings for Seniors.
Some go to socialize. Some go for the food. You may find some kicking up their heels in dance class. Just imagine your grandma laughing and cha-cha-ing her way across the floor of the rec room at the local Y. Art instruction. Bread making, Ceramics and crafts. Bingo. Healthcare instruction. Gardening. Field trips. Music appreciation. Free meals and more. These are examples of the many services offered by Senior Programs around San Francisco.
“Our day begins with people setting up work spaces for their art, while others peruse the daily newspapers to discuss the latest events. As para-transit vans arrive, individuals using walkers and wheelchairs join the other neighborhood regulars enjoying a cup of tea or coffee,” states Richmond Senior Center.
Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center wants all elders participating the their Senior Program “to feel healthy and vibrant, connected and mentally sharp.” Their Senior Program provides hot lunches, group exercise classes, intellectual stimulation, weekly line dancing, tai chi, special workshops, monthly blood pressure screenings, and a computer lab.
“Our dining room is more than just where meals are served, it’s where people gather to connect, share and learn,” states Curry Senior Center.

Senior exercise class at Castro Senior Center.  (photo courtesy of Golden Gate Senior Services)
 Older adults are the fastest growing age group in town. Nearly 30% of San Francisco’s seniors live alone. With San Francisco’s cost of living recognized as being  62% higher than the national average, surviving on a fixed income in San Francisco is more challenging than ever before. It is estimated that 50,000 seniors in San Francisco struggle with varying degrees of food insecurity, from occasional need for some to daily need for others.
Home bound seniors in need of food can look to Meals on Wheels for assistance. Meals on Wheels delivers nutritious meals directly to client’s homes.  Meals on Wheels is the only organization in San Francisco that delivers two meals a day, seven days a week that are nutritionally-tailored to meet the dietary needs of eligible seniors.
Volunteer Julie G. accepting donations at Real Foods on Polk Street.
 For seniors who are not home bound, food is available at Senior Programs throughout the city. Food Runners currently serves over 35 Senior Programs on a regular basis. The list includes senior centers such as Curry Senior Center, group homes such as Progress Foundation's Rypin’s House, subsidized housing apartment buildings like Dorothy Day Community Center and drop-in centers such as Pilipin Senior Resource Center. “When our clients have enough to eat,” states E of the Pilipin Center, “they can pay their rent and stay off the streets. The food from Food Runners helps so much.”
Taking nutritious food that would otherwise be discarded enables Food Runners to make an immediate and meaningful impact on the seniors being served. At Food Runners, growing old doesn’t have to mean going hungry.