Freezin' for a reason to benefit Food Gatherers
AnnArbor.com file photo
I and my fellow music hosts from Ann Arbor’s 107one will once again be freezin’ for a reason this week as we broadcast outside the Kroger store on South Maple next to the Westgate Shopping Center, asking you to drop off a food or monetary donation to help those in need throughout the greater Ann Arbor area. The little bit of discomfort we experience doing radio in the cold is nothing compared to the truly dire situation thousands of people in our community face every day: a lack of nutritious food.
Recently I spoke to Food Gatherers’ President/CEO Eileen Spring and Director of Development Mary Schlitt about this year’s event.
Q: Has there been another dramatic increase in the need for food since last year’s “Rockin’ For The Hungry?”
Eileen Spring: It’s been more of a relentlessness issue for the last couple of years. We thought the recession would be tucked in by now, but it isn’t. Every day we see people who never before accessed emergency food pantries accessing them; these are the newly unemployed and university students. We have all sorts of people newly entering into the emergency food system, and the folks that have been relying on them are still relying on them, so it’s have been relentless really for the last four years. It’s been really difficult.
Mary Schlitt: We’re seeing at the agency level a greater demand for resources because they are getting a lot of their budgets cut for funding. So Food Gatherers has found ourselves not only in the role of providing food to these partner programs but also with the funding to operate their food programs. We’re helping them by doing capacity-building grants to purchase freezers, to pay for their staffing, to keep the lights on at their food pantry, all so that they can be the means of delivering product to people in need.
Q: I recall a few years ago you saying that there had been a decrease in the amount of food being donated from major retailers and restaurants because they’re cutting their budgets closer to the bone. Are you still seeing that?
Spring: It’s not so much that there’s a decrease. It’s that the increased demand can’t be made up by food rescue alone. We’re rescuing about two millions pounds of food per year and we’re distributing about five million pounds of food. So that remaining three million is coming from food drives, purchasing food and growing food. We’re basically doing everything we possibly can to get healthier food to our agencies.
Q: What can tell us about the food you’re growing yourselves at Food Gatherers?
Schlitt: It’s close to 18,000 pounds of food we did on the gathering farm this year, which was the third growing season. We did a new crop of melons, peppers, greens and sweet potatoes.
Spring: Thirty percent of our total food distribution last year was fresh produce and that’s an amazing number compared to other food banks. Part of our goal is responding to this increased demand, and also connecting the dots between food, nutrition and health. A lot of the people we serve are folks who are at the highest risk for diabetes and childhood obesity. We want to feed them with food that is actually nurturing and helps addresses these deeply intransigent issues of poverty and health.
Q: How important an event is “Rockin’ For The Hungry” for Food Gatherers?
Schlitt: “Rockin’” is our largest outdoor drive of the year, with a goal of raising at least two hundred tons of food. It brings in food that we will use through the winter months. It used to last us into the spring, but now we use that food in January, February and March and then it’s gone. “Rockin’” is a critical time to get people involved, to get people who’ve never heard of Food Gatherers aware of hunger issues in our community. One in seven people in Washtenaw County is at risk for hunger right now. And for children it’s one in six. Children and seniors are two of our largest and fastest growing populations that need emergency food resources, so we’re trying to get people aware of the situation in our community.
Q: What are the best items that people can bring by the Kroger on South Maple, and can people give at other Kroger locations?
Spring: We like protein items: canned beans, canned vegetables, hearty stews, baby formula, canned meats and canned soups. We can always purchase more with cash, so for every dollar given we can serve three meals.
Schlitt: You can go to any Kroger location within Washtenaw County and make a $1, $5 or $10 donation to Food Gatherers. There will be collection bins at each Kroger location as well. People can purchase items at their Kroger stores and put them in the bin for Food Gatherers.
Q: And I hear there’s a very cool afterglow event this year, right?
Schlitt: Yes, we’re having an after-party this year! We’ll be featuring a performance by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., the critically-acclaimed indie-rock band from Michigan, on Sunday, Dec. 11. This’ll be at Wolverine Brewery (2019 West Stadium) starting at 5:30 pm. We’re asking for people to donate five dollars plus a non-perishable food item at the door.
Martin Bandyke is the 6-10am morning drive host at Ann Arbor’s 107one. Follow him at martinbandyke.com or on Twitter.