Mary Risley came up with the idea for Food Runners 20 years ago.
Mary Risley came up with the idea for Food Runners 20 years ago. Nancy Mullane/NPR
Food Runners arranges food pickups from hotel kitchens and restaurants using trucks donated by UPS.
Food Runners arranges food pickups from hotel kitchens and restaurants using trucks donated by UPS. Nancy Mullane/NPR
Volunteers Keith Goldstein (left) and Seth Acharya (right) stand with Johann Smit, who owns Hidden Star Orchards, one of the vendors at the Ferry Building farmers market in San Francisco that donates to Food Runners.
Volunteers Keith Goldstein (left) and Seth Acharya (right) stand with Johann Smit, who owns Hidden Star Orchards, one of the vendors at the Ferry Building farmers market in San Francisco that donates to Food Runners. Nancy Mullane/NPR
'Tis the season of excessive food. We cook too much and sometimes don't have a great plan for all the leftovers. Throwing it away can be painful — especially during this time of economic need. In a number of cities across the country, people are finding ways to donate their extra food.
In San Francisco, make one phone call to a group called Food Runners, and they'll either tell you where to deliver the food, or a volunteer will come, gather up the goodies and redistribute them to the hungry.
"There is enough food produced in this country to feed everybody. It's a matter of redistributing it," says Mary Risley. She came up with the idea for Food Runners 20 years ago after students at her Tante Marie Cooking School made wedding cakes, and no one was around to eat them.
"We had a wedding cake workshop, and I had seven wedding cakes inside my little Alfa Romeo," says Risley, "and I drove down to Glide Memorial Church to donate them, and I had butter cream all over my car."
She figured that if she could do it, anyone could.
These days, Risley has a paid coordinator who takes calls and arranges food pickups from hotel kitchens and restaurants using trucks donated by UPS. There's also a team of 200 volunteers who use their own cars for smaller pickups. Food Runners delivers more than 22,000 pounds of food each week to shelters and group homes.
"I think sharing food is the nicest thing you can do with people," Risley says.
Even individual households can donate their leftovers. It all starts with a phone call to Food Runners.
Homemaker Carol Cutler called the hotline to donate three large aluminum containers of "really good Thai food" left over from a party at her house.
"They suggested I take it to a small residence in the Mission [District], and that's what I'm going to do," Cutler says.
Across town at the open-air farmers market outside the Ferry Building, it's just about shutdown time.
Keith Goldstein towers over the tables and booths. The long-time volunteer with Food Runners is making his rounds and filling his rolling cart with food donated by vendors.
"Food Runners ... bring out your food," Goldstein announces.
"Give us 10 minutes, and this whole table is yours," one vendor tells him.
After picking up an armload of fresh leafy collard greens from one booth and gently placing them in one of the boxes on his cart, Goldstein is called over to a booth with delicious-looking baked goods.
He says the man who makes the beautiful loaves of bread from the Della Fattoria bakery in Petaluma, Calif., always donates what he doesn't sell.
"Oh, we love giving to Food Runners ... why isn't there more of it?" says bakery owner Edmund Weber. "I actually bake for them a little bit, a little extra, because it's so beautiful to do. I don't have time to feed people, but I have time to feed Food Runners."
By the end of his rounds, Goldstein has collected 52 cases of rustic bread, free-range eggs and golden butternut squash. By 5 p.m., it'll all be delivered to people who need it.
"You know, if you're feeling lousy, if you've had a bad week, go and do something like Food Runners, and do a pickup and help people out," he says. "It changes your whole outlook on life. It's a real uplifter."