The San Francisco (SF) Supermarket Street Sweep may just be the only “race” in existence where cargo bikes, basketpackers, and panniers are an advantage. After a few-year hiatus thanks to the global pandemic and atmospheric rivers, Erik Mathy covers the return of this grocerycat fundraiser!
alley cat noun / ˈæli kæt /
- Stray cat, a homeless domestic cat.
- Feral cat, a cat that has been born to other ferals or from stray cats, and that are unaccustomed to human interaction.
alleycat noun / ˈælikæt /
- An alleycat race is an unsanctioned bicycle race. Alley cats almost always take place in cities, and are often organized by bicycle messengers. The informality of the organization is matched by the emphasis on taking part, rather than simple competition.
grocerycat noun / ˈɡrəʊsərɪkaet /
- A grocerycat race is an alleycat-styled race and cycling food bank fundraiser in which racers collect specific foodstuffs from participating grocery stores. The further away the store, the greater the points the racers are awarded. In lieu of a signed manifest, racers must present receipts from the grocery stores as proof that they reached their destination.
Founded in 2005 by Bay Area cycling community legends Jenny Oh, Jonathan Koshi, and Kacey O’Kelly, the San Francisco (SF) Supermarket Street Sweep was inspired by New York City’s Cranksgiving Ride. Starting back in 1999, Cranksgiving turned the classic messenger alleycat format into a fundraising event to help feed those in need. Six years later, Jenny decided to start the West Coast version and, in typical Jenny fashion, tongue in cheek named it for the campy 70’s game show “Supermarket Sweep.” It later became widely known as simply, “The Sweep”.
At its height The Sweep saw 166 racers and brought in a staggering 18,202lbs of food and $21,229 for the SF Marin Food Bank. In operation since 1987, the SF Marin Food Bank currently provides groceries to over 53,000 households and serves 1,000,000+ meals per week through its pop-up pantries and partner organizations. The demand for their services nearly doubled during the pandemic.
“Prior to the pandemic, we were serving about 32,000 households. Now we’re serving 55,000 households. Most of that increase are people that never needed food assistance before and probably never thought they would ever need food assistance. That’s really been the biggest growth of our service demographic. And for us, it’s not going to change. Even though the world is opening back up, that effect isn’t going to be felt by our participants for a really long time.
We know that in times of disaster, and we’ve seen this in other food banks, you basically double your service, and then that’s essentially your new normal.
I think for me, what I love most about this event is anytime you can find something you’re passionate about and find a way to connect that to philanthropy, that’s what makes my heart sing. And that’s why I love my job and getting to work with groups like the team of Street Sweeps. They have all these people that like to cycle and they want to do good. So they say, “Let’s figure out how to do something.” That’s my favorite part of my job.”
– Katy McKnight, Director of Community Engagement, SF Marin Food Bank
As with many events, both small and large, The Sweep took a two-year hiatus during the pandemic. A planned return in late 2022, however, was delayed again due to a month-long rain deluge with 40+mph winds. So, on February 4, 2023 at 11:00am a small but hardy group of 49 racers gathered in the rain at The Arrow on the Embarcadero in San Francisco for the 15th running of The Sweep. Split in three classes (Speed/Points, Cargo, Team) riders had until 4:00pm to finish all of their grocery runs.
And make runs they did. One Cargo competitor, Josiah Haut, made four trips with a haul for a total 876lbs of rice. “I did 200lbs each run until this last one. Then I thought, ‘hey, maybe I could throw on two more bags. It’s just another 50 lbs.’ Well, that 50lbs made it a LOT harder!”
When it was all said and done, 2,516lbs of food and $2,306 were collected for the SF Marin Food Bank. Considering the long absence brought on by the pandemic as well as the smaller delays and complications brought on by the weather, it was a small but heartfelt first year back for the West Coast grocerycat race. Here’s to a further resurgence in the SF Supermarket Sweep in years to come!
Be sure to check out the gallery at the top of the post for a more detailed photo recap!