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Helping a Hungry City: Building Community Through Burritos
Friday, January 28, 2022

Helping a Hungry City: Building Community Through Burritos

Since its founding in 2016, The Burrito Project San Francisco has distributed close to 30,000 burritos—all with the goal of giving back and building community.

The charity has gathered a large following through its refreshingly straightforward mission: Some of our neighbors are hungry, so let’s try our best to feed them. 

The idea behind the group is simple. Those willing to lend their time and burrito-rolling expertise gather once a month to make a big batch of unpretentious burritos—think beans, rice and salsa—and then spread out across the city to hand deliver food and other supplies to anyone who can use them.

Central to the Burrito Project’s San Francisco chapter are Billy Lemon and Michael Walters, life partners and two of the main organizers behind the project’s monthly efforts. Their official titles are “Salsa Slinger” and “Chief Roller,” respectively, and they organize the coordination of the burrito making process, greeting volunteers in-person at Garfield Square on the last Monday of every month and occasionally delivering the burritos themselves when volunteer turnout is lower than expected.

Billy Lemon and Michael Walters send volunteers to hand out burritos on October 25, 2021. | Camille Cohen

“Who doesn’t want a burrito? Easy to travel, easy to pass out, and they’re also damn good,” said Lemon.

The feeling in the air as Lemon and Walters hand out the tortilla-wrapped bundles is one of friends catching up after spending a few months apart, or co-workers meeting up for drinks after work. But perhaps it’s more accurate to say that volunteering with the Burrito Project replaces happy hour for Lemon and Walters.

“I don’t think I’m going to let the cat out of the bag if I say that we are both sober,” Lemon joked with Walters. “Part of being sober is recognizing that giving back to the community in which you live is super important. One of the ways that we support our sobriety is by building communities.”

Bags full of burritos and masks wait to be delivered to people experiencing homelessness on October 25, 2021. | Camille Cohen

The community became harder to serve during the pandemic. Pre-COVID, the organization used facilities provided to them by the Martin de Porres Foundation, which operates a free restaurant in Potrero Hill, to hand roll all of their burritos. Now, Mexican restaurant El Pípila has stepped in to help, with their staff performing burrito making duties before handing them off to the charity for distribution. Additionally, the group includes staples like masks and socks as a part of its care packages.

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For The Burrito Project San Francisco, it’s all about making giving easy: the group’s catchphrase is “because your mom told you to share.”

“San Franciscans in general have very big hearts. As residents here, I think it is our duty and obligation to not look past those folks living in tents adjacent to our homes. It is our obligation to try and do something to help them,” said Lemon.

“This is a low bar that’s super easy,” Lemon added. “As long as there’s a need, I would like The Burrito Project to be there.”

Video by Jesse Rogala and Mike Kuba.

Jesse Rogala can be reached at jesse@sfstandard.com.

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