After riding as hard as he could, Ariel locked his cargo bike in front of the Safeway, pulled his daughter out of her seat and the two ran inside to collect the next item on their shopping list. Ariel isn’t racing around San Francisco trying to snag a sweet deal on the newest gadgets. He’s collecting supplies for the food bank. He’s one of 166 racers taking part in the Supermarket Street Sweep.
This one of a kind event involves pedaling around the city and making stops at designated grocery stores where the racers have to purchase specific items – dry goods like bags of rice and beans – put them in their backpacks/baskets and then race to the next store. After they’ve collected all of the items on their list, they ride to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank to drop off their loads. There’s a podium, but the real winners are the undernourished people in San Francisco and Marin County who benefit from the hauls.
The benefit of the Supermarket Street Sweep (SMSW) is clear – this year they raised over $20,000 which the Food Bank can use to create over 60,000 meals. But why the bike race?
“We like to be out there using our sport to make a positive contribution. Creating awareness for cycling and active transportation to be used as a force for good, and not just a sport,” said Caetie Ofiesh, one of the event’s organizers. There are many people who get involved with Supermarket Street Sweep that might not come out if it wasn’t for the bikes. The event connects with members of the cycling community who are excited to use the sport they love to make a difference.
It isn’t just the regular racers who are attracted to the event either. You can see every kind of bike in attendance, from fixed gears, to cargo bikes, to carbon fiber race bikes and even a few tandems. The motivation to be apart of something bigger brings out people of all abilities who might not sign up for any other ‘races’.
For Ariel Mendez-Penate, the SMSW wasn’t just a chance to make a difference in the lives of strangers, it was a chance to show his daughter the importance of helping others. Ariel and his four-year-old daughter Theia raced on a cargo bike. Ariel did the pedalling, while Theia sat in the basket – and helped load the groceries, of course.
“Theia is coming to the age where she is taking more notice of the world around her. She sees the homelessness and poverty that our city is struggling with and she can understand the idea of some folks having more than others,” Ariel said. “At four she’s probably not going to remember much about the event, but when we come back year after year hopefully she’ll understand more about what it means to be a positive force in the world around her.”
Ariel’s story is another example of why the bikes are such a key part of SMSW. It’s one thing to donate money to an organization like the Food Bank, but when you take part in purchasing the supplies with that money and you really see (and feel) how much food you’re contributing, the effect is so much more visceral. It’s a powerful way to illustrate just how much of a difference the group is making. And it’s that example that will stick with Theia as she learns what it means to be a citizen of San Francisco and of the World.
“When people who you are friends with are committing themselves to a cause, it’s easy to get behind them,” Ariel said. “This wasn’t a faceless letter or email asking people to donate, it was the friends and family you ride with every weekend. As cyclists, we can get caught up in shiny new bikes and spectacular shots from Mt. Tam. It was great to meet new people and really feel like you’d accomplished something.”
While so much cycling is an individual pursuit, the Supermarket Street Sweep shows how it can also tie communities together and motivate them to make a difference. We’re excited to see more organizations like this coming up around the world – groups like Back on My Feet and Good Gym. Find out what there is in your community and exercise your power to make a change!