April 23, 2020 | by Leslie Carmichael
The Waller Center, an urban retreat and community center based in San Francisco and managed by the Board of Camping and Retreat Ministries of the California-Nevada Conference, was suddenly empty as user groups cancelled their reservations for February, March and beyond. Through the Bay District Superintendent, Rev. Staci Current, the Board learned that The City of San Francisco had expressed an interest in using local church buildings and the Waller Center as a respite site or shelter, but then decided to focus on non-congregate settings. The Board of Camping and Retreat Ministries continued to hear the call from Bishop Carcano “to lead and serve as the followers of Jesus the Christ who stretches out his hand of mercy and compassion and heals us” and found a way to utilize the Waller Center to serve in this time of need.
Through our United Methodist connections in disaster ministries, the Board reached out to SF-CARD, San Francisco Community Agencies Responding to Disaster, to see if one of their member non-profits had a need that the Waller Center could fill.
Right away, Food Runners expressed an interest in using the commercial kitchen at the Waller Center. Food Runners, a non-profit organization in San Francisco, picks up excess perishable and prepared food from businesses and delivers it directly to neighborhood food programs, thus addressing hunger and reducing food waste at the same time. As many of their sources of prepared food were shutting down, Food Runners was just beginning to start their own food preparation to transform donated produce and other food into nutritious meals delivered to food pantries, shelters, and other locations. But they needed a large commercial kitchen to make this happen. The Waller Center was a great fit.
Food Runners was already acquainted with the Waller Center, as founder Mary Risley remembered bringing food donations years ago to Haight Ashbury Food Program which has operated at the Waller Center since the 1980s.
The kitchen operation is led by Chef Todd Corboy, and assisted by a team of volunteers, many of whom recently lost their food service jobs. The dining room is serving as the staging/menu planning area as the menus are created based on the food donations. Currently, Food Runners is distributing an average of 2000 meals per week from the Waller Center.
The Board of Camping and Retreat Ministries is happy to be able to contribute to the relief efforts. Board President Patricia Parfett stated, “The Board felt that we needed to find a way to contribute to addressing the community’s needs during this crisis. The Waller Center is such a great resource and facilitating the food provided by Food Runners is a way to reach out to hundreds if not thousands of people to let them know they are valued and cared for.”
Chef Todd can be found working long hours, 6-7 days/week, but is rising to the challenges. “Since this pandemic started, I find myself waking up in the middle of the night thinking about how to help people that need food. I want to think there are more chefs and restaurant workers thinking that way.”
The Waller Center has been a
C conference and community resource in many ways, including hosting United Methodist retreats and meetings, the Haight Ashbury Food Program, a polling location, and all sorts of groups coming to San Francisco to address social justice and other issues. The collaboration with Food Runners is very much aligned with the mission of the Waller Center to care for the human needs of our visitors and neighbors by engaging church and community to build a just, sustainable world.
Click here to read the article about the Waller Center/Food Runners partnership featured in the San Fransisco Chronicle.