Food Runners Keeps the Unfortunate Fed in San Francisco

Food Runners, Mary Sisley, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, food waste, bicycling, food donations, Leon Kaye, tech companies
Food Runners allows businesses to donate food to charities in San Francisco.

Two things that define today’s San Francisco — bicycling and tech companies — are helping a 27-year-old nonprofit keep some of the city’s less fortunate from going hungry. Mary Risley, founder of a local cooking school, founded Food Runners in 1987 to pick up uneaten food from local businesses in order to distribute it to charities feeding the hungry. In turn those struggling with the city’s rising rents can get by while less food waste ends up in landfill.

Risley’s organization has become busier the past year, in part because of the tech companies in the city’s SOMA neighborhood with their cafeterias cooking more food than their employees can eat. Economics and the surging cost of living also play a role: As a recent San Francisco Chronicle article noted, the amount of food donations Food Runners has picked up has spiked 50 percent in the past year. But not only Silicon Valley-type companies are donating to the nonprofit.

Grocery stores, including the local Whole Foods and Faletti, also donate to Food Runners. Local bakeries do the same, along with restaurants including COCO500, Kokkari and Piperade. Food Runners also includes wholesalers, farmers markets, hospitals and photographers among its regular donors.

What is most impressive about Food Donors is that Risley accomplishes the deliveries, logistics and relationships with various charities on a skeleton staff and shoestring budget. A volunteer arranges food pickups and drop-offs and a truck driver who hauls the larger loads. And another volunteer bicycle courier plies the streets of SOMA to transfer the unwanted food from the likes of Twitter and Google to those who could really use it.

It has been a long road for Mary Risley and Food Runners, which started in her home as a network connecting businesses and local agencies via telephones and a small group of volunteers. Five years later the organization launched the Planned Overage program, in which participating restaurants use leftover ingredients to create meals for 25 to 30 people. The UPS Foundation eventually donated a refrigerated truck to Food Runners, and by 1997 the organization had the means hire a full-time truck driver to transfer large amounts of food every day. By 2000 the Chronicle had named Risley as one of the most influential people in the Bay Area, and the James Beard Foundation named her its “Humanitarian of the Year.”

Now approaching 30 years, Food Runners is still going strong and feeding San Francisco’s hungry. A similar organization on the Peninsula now does the same work that covers south of San Francisco to San Jose. Companies interested in donating food can call Food Runners at 415-929-1866 or can learn more about the organization on its website. Food Runners Peninsula can be contacted at 415-826-6903.

Image credit: Food Runners

Leon Kaye has lived in Abu Dhabi for the past year and is currently spending some time in Uruguay. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Other thoughts of his are on his site,

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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