Gleaners event inspires, empowers women

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News
Tonya Allen, CEO of the Skillman Foundation and founder of the Detroit Parent Network.

Detroit — Debra Guido-Allen said she thinks the current era of women in leadership roles isn't going to end anytime soon.

"I think it'll last a long time. And I think it won't stop until we end up in a place where there's gender equity and inclusion of everyone across the board," said Guido-Allen, who is chief operating officer for Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

"I hope it inspires young women and girls to reach for the sky. I hope they know they can do whatever they put their minds to and that nothing should stop them from achieving their dreams."

Guido-Allen made the remarks before heading into the Gleaners Community Food Bank's 26th Annual Women's Power Breakfast Tuesday at the MGM Grand Casino in Detroit. Since 1994, the event has helped Gleaners raise more than $3.4 million to support hunger-fighting programs for children.

The theme of this year's event was "Honoring Women in Education" and about 520 people attended.

Kristiye Gathing was also among those who attended the event. She said she welcomes the empowerment of women.

"I think it's great and it's about time," said the direct marketing manager for Motor City Casino. "We all have different ideas that we come together with. I hope it means there will be more diversity in the workforce. That's been missing for so long."

Chelsie Leathers, who is digital marketing manager at Motor City Casino, agrees. 

"That's why events like this are so important for communities," she said. "It's important that women can get together and network and understand they're not the only ones in their companies trying to achieve goals. It provides a sense of unity."

She said she hopes the momentum enables women to branch out into different industries.

During the Women's Power Breakfast, Gleaners announced it was launching its Million Meal Match Best Food Forward initiative and honored two women who are working to improve the future for Michigan's children.

The nonprofit's Million Meal Match aims to raise at least one million meals for children. It is seek donations for the campaign and sponsors such as PNC Bank and Delta Air Lines are matching contributions. The drive began Tuesday and will run through May 21. 

In its "Best Food Forward" effort, Gleaners is working with the state education department and select school districts to improve student learning by developing curriculum, wellness policies and health services. It is also making healthy food more accessible in those schools. 

Officials with the nonprofit also presented awards to two women who it says are champions for Michigan children: Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation, and Diane Golzynski, director of the Michigan Department of Education's Office of Health and Nutrition Services and State Child Nutrition Director.

"I'm really grateful for this award, but I'm more grateful that all of you showed up here today to support Gleaners," Allen said. "I ask you to continue to show up and support Gleaners and support our children."

Founded in 1960 and based in Detroit, the Skillman Foundation works to ensure the city's youth have access to high-quality educational and economic opportunities. 

Golzynski echoed Allen's sentiments and said she was humbled to receive Gleaners' honor.

"Please support the food bank because every kid in the state of Michigan deserves to grow up and be the most amazing adult they can possibly be," she said. "They won't be able to do it without all of us."

The Office of Health and Nutrition Services is the state agency that administers federal food programs, including National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan is based in Detroit and operates five distribution centers in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Livingston and Monroe counties.

It provides food to 528 soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters and other agencies throughout the region. The charity estimates it distributes about 96,348 meals each day and provides food to about 430,000 people — including 171,000 children — a year. Last year, the nonprofit distributed more than 43 million pounds of food to the needy.
Twitter: @CharlesERamirez