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Fighting hunger in Detroit

Forgotten Harvest’s mission is two-fold: to relieve hunger and to prevent nutritious food waste. Over the past 25 years, they have been doing just that in the Detroit area. What started as one donated van has since grown to 33 trucks and 71 employees. According to Forgotten Harvest, over 70 billion pounds of food is wasted every year in our country. “There is more than enough good food,” they say. “Food that can be obtained absolutely free of charge for our neighbors.” In the past year alone, Forgotten Harvest has rescued over 40 million pounds of fresh healthy food.

We are so proud to support Forgotten Harvest with the limited edition FEED + Shinola Tote, which provides 100 meals to the families they serve when purchased. We recently sat down with Director of Corporate Relations, Rebecca Gade, to learn more about this food rescue organization’s amazing history and what a typical day looks like at headquarters.

Tell us a little bit more about your mission. As metro Detroit’s only food rescue organization, Forgotten Harvest has been dedicated to relieving hunger in metro Detroit and preventing nutritious food waste since our founding in 1990. Last year alone, we rescued the equivalent of over 41 million meals in surplus fresh food, from 800 donor sites including wholesale distributors, farmers, dairies, restaurants and 267 grocery stores. This perfectly good food is delivered at no charge to 280 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and mobile pantries across metro Detroit.

The donations raised through the sale of the FEED + Shinola Tote will help the families you serve through Forgotten Harvest. Help us understand the context of food insecurity in Detroit. Are there any statistics you can share about the populations you help? Hunger, or food-insecurity, is defined in the U.S. as an inability for individuals to obtain sufficient food for their households. People skip meals, cut back on the quality or quantity of meals, and may potentially suffer malnutrition over time. Our community is no different. Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, one in four children (24.8%) lives in poverty.  In the tri-county area, 644,000+ people, including 217,000+ children, live in poverty.

In the City of Detroit, over 57% of children under age 18 live in poverty.  Using poverty rates as a proxy for hunger, over 1 in 2 children in the City of Detroit are at risk of hunger. Nearly four million (3.9) households in Michigan live at risk of hunger. Contrary to what you might think, the problem of hunger has nothing to do with a lack of food to go around. In the US alone, approximately 70 billion pounds of food is wasted annually. We exist to rescue that food in a timely manner and deliver it to those in need.

When was Forgotten Harvest founded? Was there a particular need or moment that incentivized the founding? Forgotten Harvest was founded in 1990 by Dr. Nancy Fishman. Before starting Forgotten Harvest Dr. Fishman found herself in a food line with a young child, she made a promise to herself that when she got back on her feet she would do something to help those in need. Years later, while at a party, she noticed a large amount of food was being thrown away by the catering company. From there, she started rescuing food from local events and celebrations—all from the back of her Jeep. When an elderly couple read about her need for a van to expand her services, they made an anonymous donation that paid for the first truck.

How many families do you serve each year? Approximately, how many of those families have children? Standing in a food line can be a very humiliating experience. With that in mind, we do not collect information from people or count heads. We don’t want to create any barriers that might stop people from feeding themselves or their children.  However, we estimate that we help thousands of families, and hundreds of thousands of people, in metro Detroit.

What does a day at Forgotten Harvest look like? It’s probably is no small feat to manage the operations of providing food for so many. Our drivers generally hit the road between 6:00-7:00am. They have a set route of pickups in the morning, which include Kroger stores, restaurants, Costco stores, and farms. In the afternoon they deliver the food to several different agencies. These can be children’s organizations, soup kitchens, churches, etc. Our fleet of 34 trucks is on the road six days a week.

Back at our warehouse, we have volunteer groups as large as 50 repacking food like vegetables, dairy products, prepared foods and more. This food is packed into family sized portions, and then distributed to our mobile pantries, which are set up like famer’s markets. In this format, families can pick out foods they know they will use. We have 69 mobile pantries that serve anywhere from 60 – 100 families at a time. This is mostly run by volunteers: In the last fiscal year, 14,726 volunteers provided 77,412 hours of dedicated service to help us execute our mission.

We heard about your farm! Can you tell us about that? We also have a farm in Fenton, MI, which operates from spring to late fall. The farm was started as a way to increase the amount of nutritious food we provide to families, with produce such as kale, collards, squash, broccoli, navy beans, zucchini and corn. In last year’s growing season, the farm produced over 880,000 pounds of nutritious vegetables, with the support of 5 staff and about 2,000 volunteers.

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