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Restaurant reviews and food news from Ann Arbor Observer reviewers and blogger Mae Sander.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Gathering Food for People in Need

  • "We fight hunger efficiently. We regard the gifts of food, money and time that we receive as a sacred trust to be administered for the most effective hunger relief possible." -- One of Food Gatherers' Values.
Produce in the warehouse at Food Gatherers' headquarters comes from several sources.
Food Gatherers puts the emphasis on fresh produce for distribution to hungry people in Washtenaw County.
In the FG Warehouse.
A semi truck with produce or packaged foodspulls up around once a week at the dock at 1 Carrot Way, headquarters ofFood Gatherers(FG), the Washtenaw County food bank. After the food is unloaded and stored on the warehouse shelves, it becomes available to 150 local FG partners for distribution to people in need.

On my recent visit to FG headquarters and warehouse, Mary Schlitt, FG Chief Development Officer, and John Reed, FG Chief Compliance Officer, provided me with answers to my numerous questions about where the food in the warehouse comes from. The main source of food for FG is donations of rescued food; in addition FG purchases approximately $1 million of food per year.

Feeding America,a privately-funded national food bank, is one source of food and personal care items coming to the warehouse on the weekly semi trucks. Feeding America offers several programs to its 200 partner agencies. FG relies on two of them: the "Produce Match Maker" and the "Choice System." Through these programs, FG can order various products that have been donated by a variety of national manufacturers or other businesses. Feeding America works out the logistics of trucks that may deliver partial truckloads to more than one partner agency. (Another side of the FG-Feeding America partnership is that Feeding America audits the food-handling practices and other aspects of the FG program.)

Ruhlig Farms is an important source of produce purchased
purchased through the MASS system.
Fresh produce from Michigan farms may alternatively be the payload of various trucks arriving at FG. Such orders may be placed through the Michigan Agricultural Surplus System (MASS) and the Food Council of Michigan. These publicly funded organizations share the cost of wholesale first-quality Michigan-grown products 50-50 with FG. Fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs, dried beans, meat and other Michigan foods thus become available to FG clients.

Other trucks may deliver a variety of products from other sources. Around 9% of Food Gatherers budget is donated by the USDA, and can be used for purchase of USDA foods and surplus foods, such as canned or packaged juices, fruit, vegetables, beef stew, soup, salmon, raisins, dairy products, and more. A very small amount of aid for high-demand items is also supplied by certain FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) programs. Occasionally, a surprise donation arrives on an unexpected truck from a private donor.

USDA foods in the FG warehouse.
A Food Gatherers' truck at the dock -- the trucks bring in donated food and
distribute food needed by partners: hot meal providers and food pantries.
Most importantly: FG has its own trucks, which arrive at the docks several times a day. They bring donations from local businesses such as supermarkets, bakeries, drug stores, big-box stores, and food drives. A total of 60 to 70% of the food from FG consists of this rescued food from more than 300 different donor sources.

In addition, FG collects and distributes produce grown specially for their customer base. At gardens near the warehouse the Food Gatherers Gathering Farm grows vegetables for their clients. This year, according to the FG website,the farm produced "cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, kale, collard greens, melons, leeks, beets, carrots, radishes, turnips and peas!"

The Faith and Food campaign has encouraged local congregations to start communal gardens and donate a portion of their harvest. Individual gardeners in the area often grow extra produce for FG in a program called Plant a Row for the Hungry. In addition, the Huron Valley Women's Correctional Facility horticulture program and the Michigan Farm to Food Bank give substantial donations to FG.

In a future post, I'll talk about how FG partners distribute food from the warehouse to their partner organizations and onward to the final consumers. I've already written about one partner: SOS Community Services and their food pantry which is stocked with items from FG (as well as items from their own food drives) -- see mypost "Fighting Hunger."

A volunteer with donated bread.

posted by Mae Sander at 6:26 a.m. | 0 comments


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