Food Runners

Monday, March 14, 2022

Two Vans & a Truck

 by Nancy Hahn
Retired Food Runners Dispatcher

Neither hills, nor traffic, nor COVID, nor lack of legal parking stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

FR Truck Driver Jose J. wheeling out a big load from Whole Foods Potrero
One of the first things the Food Runners dispatcher needs to know when directing a food donation is: “will it fit in a car?” If the answer is, “no,” the donation gets assigned to the Food Runners truck or one of the two Food Runners vans, depending on the size and location of the donation. Driving one of these vehicles for Food Runners is no ordinary pick up/delivery job. It is special. Just ask Truck Driver, José Juarez and Van Drivers, Marvin Vega and José Cisneros. They all feel lucky to drive for Food Runners despite the heavy lifting involved and the challenges of driving in our congested city that offers few parking options.

Van Driver Jose Cisneros on delivery
All three drivers start their rounds at 8AM. All three drive approximately eight hours per day. The Food Runners truck picks up the biggest loads. For example: according to José J., a typical Trader Joe’s donation consists of 18-25 boxes filled with a variety of items including produce, frozen foods, prepared foods, groceries and more. The vans are responsible for picking up and delivering the bulk of the 2,000+ meals created daily at the Food Runners Meal Program. Volunteers prepare, box and label the meals under the direction of Meal Program Chef, Fernando Zapato. In addition, the vans are assigned to pick-ups like Google Headquarters and Twitter where José C. reports an average pick up of 15-25 large foil trays of prepared food from the company cafeterias. That’s enough to feed 50-75 people at a time.

Van Driver Marvin V. unloading a grocery store donation
Where to park, where to park… an eternal San Francisco conundrum. At the Apollo Hotel on Valencia between 15th and 16th, one of Marvin’s regular deliveries, there is a very busy bike lane out front and nary a parking space, even a yellow zone, within a block. The solution? As both of the Josés do at locations of similar circumstance, Marvin contacts a designated on-site point person with his ETA when on the way.  He then arrives to a team of eager helpers waiting for him curbside where they collectively unload quicker than a meter maid can whip out a ticket book. José C. experiences a like scene at City Team on 6th Street between Mission and Howard. A quick phone call before arrival assures a rapid off-load that always includes City Team offering Jose of a cup of coffee or bottle of water for the road. The drivers follow the same type of call-ahead protocol with donors in difficult parking areas such as Proper Food at 116 Montgomery Street.

Van Driver Jose C. delivering to North Beach Citizens
Driving the truck or one of the vans for Food Runners is more than just a job. It’s a mission. The thing that all three drivers like best about their work is seeing the smiling faces of those in need being served. José J. has been driving the Food Runners truck for seven and a half years and he will tell you that helping feed his fellow citizens in need never gets old. Van Driver Marvin states simply, “The greatest satisfaction is that people are happy when I arrive and when they see the Food Runners van, they get excited. And, for me, that makes my heart happy.” When asked what his favorite thing about driving the Food Runners van is, José C, the newest of the three drivers, recounts, “My favorite thing about my job is being a part of this organization that helps people that live in the street or in another place.” When asked what makes the job special for him, José C replies, “I wonder to see many Volunteers* giving their time to feed people in our city. It’s special for me because, being an immigrant from El Salvador, it makes happy to give back a little to this community. I don’t consider myself only a driver, I feel more than that. Sometimes, the only food people will get during a day is our [Food Runners] food. Bringing something to those people makes me especiál.” Mission accomplished!
* Food Runners Meal Program Volunteers

Van Driver Jose C. feeling "especiál"