Filling the Pantry of the San Francisco Food Bank with Pedal Power

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supermarket street sweep

Father and son Eric and Sprocket Downing in the 2010 Supermarket Street Sweep. Photo by Koshi.

I've only been a resident of the Bay Area since 2006, but it's felt like home the moment I ditched my New York City zip code for the "Best Coast." One of the reasons I moved out here is because it's a mecca for folks who love the great outdoors, and as a lifelong cyclist, I can't imagine another place I'd rather live and play.

Ironically enough, it wasn't until I left New York that I heard about Cranksgiving. This is an annual food drive that's been going strong since 1999. It was originally organized by a group of NYC bike messengers and follows the "alley cat" format of street racing. Alleycats emulate a typical bike messenger's day. There is a "manifest" that lists the "checkpoints" -- rather like the multiple stops messengers make on their delivery route. During a typical alleycat, an individual stationed at the checkpoint will sign the manifest as proof that the participant came by. With Cranksgiving, the supermarkets serve as the checkpoints, and racers buy a list of groceries that goes directly to food pantries and other non-profit organizations.

Cranksgiving has spread around the country, and there are now over 30 benefit races at last count. San Francisco didn't have one in 2006, so I and a group of bike-fanatic friends launched the Supermarket Street Sweep (yes, the name is a riff on the old game show) to help the San Francisco Food Bank. The Sweep also adheres to the alleycat street race style, but there are two categories: Speed and Cargo. For the Speed category, cyclists race to supermarkets as fast as they can to buy all of the items on their list.



And in a hilly city like San Francisco, that's no easy feat. Contestants who'd like to be winning contenders are not only fit, but also possess excellent navigational skills and the ability to plot the best route just like a regular bicycle messenger. And it doesn't hurt to be able to charm your way to the front of the checkout line to expedite paying for your groceries ahead of your competitors.

The Cargo category focuses on racers bringing back as much food as humanly possible from five supermarkets around the city. (The route isn't nearly as challenging as the Speed category as the emphasis is on the amount of food competitors are able to bring back.) One notable winner in 2009, Jeremiah Ducate, brought in a whopping 962 lbs. You can watch him pedaling to victory in this video.

While not everyone is a he-man like Jeremiah, it's pretty impressive how much food folks are able to stuff in panniers, baskets and backpacks. The Sweep has raised over 20,000 pounds of food and close to $5000 in cash, which is the equivalent of 37,333 meals. And with families in California struggling in this tough economy to put dinner on the table, every can and box of food matters.

All manner of cyclists come out to support the SF Food Bank: commuters, families, amateur racers from local teams and other cycling enthusiasts. It's great to see the Bay Area community come out every year to support an important local charity while having fun. There's also an after party with a raffle and prize ceremony for the participants. The event is supported by a wonderful list of generous sponsors every year; this year there's several bike frames, trailers and other great prizes to give away to top winners.

Interested in participating in this year's event? Come out to the Claes Oldenberg Cupid's Span sculpture at Embarcadero and Folsom Streets at high noon this Saturday, December 3. No need to pre-register as participants are checked in and given directions that day. Learn more about the rules and list of what to bring on our blog.

The Supermarket Street Sweep
Saturday, December 3
Registration: High Noon at the Cupid's Span sculpture at Folsom and Embarcadero
After party begins at 6PM
Facebook: Supermarket Street Sweep
Twitter: SFStreetSweep
All proceeds benefit the San Francisco Food Bank