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“It’s like a food Christmas!” said Barbara Lively, 74, as she watched volunteers organize fresh items that had just arrived in a large Forgotten Harvest truck to the weekly food bank at the Waterford Senior Center.
Forgotten Harvest truck driver Ray Dinh had spent the previous eight hours traveling around northern Oakland County “rescuing” food donations from area grocery stores such as Kroger and Meijer. One stop yielded fresh bread, another various meat products and a third supplied fruits and vegetables.
“People really appreciate it and it makes me feel good knowing I am making a difference,” said Dinh, who added that he’s always impressed by the large array of volunteers waiting to help unload each truck. “I like being a part of something that is helping people out.”
Supplying balanced nutrition is the main goal of Forgotten Harvest, and those at the Waterford Senior Center were thrilled with all the fresh goods in Dinh’s delivery that will be given away free of charge.
“I am so grateful for this,” said Julia Sidebottom, 65, of Waterford, who exists on $840 a month from Social Security. “This food is survival, an absolute necessity for me. I could never afford what I get here, and I don’t waste a thing. If I have extra vegetables, I can them.”
Lively nodded in agreement. “This,” she said gesturing to long tables laden with fresh food and produce, “adds so much to my life.”
Food for Thought
The several dozen people at the Waterford Senior Center are just a tiny percentage of the more than 589,000 people – nearly one in six individuals – in metro Detroit who face hunger.
It’s not that there’s not enough food to go around; the problem is that so much is wasted: about 70 billion pounds in the United States each year. Forgotten Harvest rescues surplus food donated by more than 800 businesses – including farmers, grocery stores both large and small, distributors, warehouses, restaurants, caterers and even Canada’s hydroponic food industry – to supply some 37.75 million meals each year absolutely free of charge. This is perfectly good food that just won’t be sold before it spoils, so would go to waste.
Founded in 1960 by Dr. Nancy Fishman, who distributed “rescued” food from the back of her Jeep, Forgotten Harvest has grown to serve as a lifeline of support for more than 250 emergency food providers, food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens and faith-based organizations in Macomb, Wayne and Oakland counties.
In the 2016-17 fiscal year, Forgotten Harvest rescued 45.8 million pounds of food – the approximate equivalent of 3,816 Asian elephants or 11,228 SUVs – that would otherwise have gone uneaten. (Did you know that wasted food makes up 14.9 percent of a municipal landfill?)
What makes Forgotten Harvest unique is its emphasis on not just feeding the hungry, but making that food count by being highly nutritious. A walk through its large warehouse in Oak Park is like visiting a farmers market, with row after row of wholesome produce ranging from corn and cabbage to peaches and heirloom tomatoes. Everything here is nourishing and fresh.
And therein lies the challenge: sharing healthy, surplus food that might otherwise go to waste with people who would otherwise go without before the food expires or spoils.
Keep on Truckin’
For Truck Dispatcher John Whalen, each day starts as a complex logistics puzzle.
“Mapping out a route is fairly easy – the challenge is coordinating who gets what and how to balance it out among the agencies so they are not doing without,” he said. “Since almost everything is fresh, the turnaround has to be fast.”
Whalen meticulously plots the route as each truck – which bears the motto “driving hunger from our community” – drives nearly enough miles to circle the earth each year.
Six days a week, Forgotten Harvest’s 35 trucks navigate some 2,000 square miles throughout the tri-counties to pick up and drop off food. That impressive fleet includes 27 large, refrigerated commercial trucks; four tractors/10 refrigerated trucks; two small commercial vans and two full-size pickup trucks – all donated to the 501(C)(3) organization.
“We’re really a trucking company with a heart when you get down to it,” noted John Owens, Forgotten Harvest’s director of marketing and public relations, of metro Detroit’s only food rescue operation, one of the nation’s largest.
Providing a Lifeline
Back at the Waterford Senior Center, Angie Cutean was eyeing the lettuce, tomatoes and bananas she was about to take home. “I love the fresh fruit and vegetables,” said the 68-year-old Clarkston resident. “This saves me so much money that I would have to spend on groceries. Most of us here live on Social Security and every penny counts.”
Two-time cancer survivor Erma Christy, 61, was all smiles despite recently losing her Pontiac home to foreclosure. “Forgotten Harvest is an awesome organization. They really care, they show love,” she said. “They have done great things for us with this high-quality food, and I really don’t know what I would do without them.”
DID YOU KNOW THAT...
- Forgotten Harvest is dedicated to relieving hunger in metro Detroit and preventing nutritious food waste.
- Dr. Nancy Fishman founded Forgotten Harvest in 1990 when she began rescuing and distributing food from the back of her Jeep to feed the hungry.
- More than 589,000 people face hunger in metro Detroit, nearly one in six individuals.
- Since 2000, Forgotten Harvest has rescued millions of pounds of food at 800 food donor locations.
- The food is donated free of charge by farms, manufacturers, dairies, food distributors, grocers and entertainment venues and it is distributed free to those in need of food.
- On the road six days a week, Forgotten Harvest's fleet of 35 trucks travel 500,000 miles a year in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties.
- Forgotten Harvest serves as a lifeline of support to more than 250 emergency food providers: food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens and faith-based organizations.
- Last year, individuals contributed 70,000 hours of volunteer service to Forgotten Harvest. Volunteers help prepare food for distribution daily at Forgotten Harvest's warehouse and help harvest produce at Forgotten Harvest Farms.
- Forgotten Harvest Farms was established in 2013 on land donated for our use by the Moroun family. Forgotten Harvest Farms expects to harvest around one million pounds of nutrient-rich food for those in need each year.
- Forgotten Harvest is one of America’s most efficient food rescue organizations.
Learn more about Forgotten Harvest, including how you can help its mission to reduce food waste and alleviate hunger, by visiting forgottenharvest.org.
This story is provided and presented by our sponsor Forgotten Harvest.
Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.