In a year when government support to address food insecurity across the state of Michigan and the country is waning and the need for local support to fight it is consequently on the rise, it’s more important than ever to support efforts like Washtenaw County’s Food Gatherers.
Those who wish to answer the call to help the one in seven food insecure people in the county who are our neighbors, friends, and family will have a chance to directly interact with representatives from Food Gatherers at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market located at 315 Detroit Street on Saturday, August 5.
“The Farmers Market is one of Food Gatherers’ oldest food rescue partners,” said Sebastian Wreford, Manager of Food Donor Relations for Food Gatherers. The strong hand-in-hand partnership between the group and the city’s farmers market operation has been integral in feeding quality nutritious plant and protein foods to people who might otherwise have to subsist meagerly on the lowest quality food stuffs that are endemic to poverty; or worse, just go hungry.
Food Gatherers was founded 29 years ago by the owners of Zingerman’s Delicatessen, who with the help of a small band of volunteers and support from local grocers and other food-based businesses filled a van with 50 pounds of produce, bread, and dairy items that the plucky little group distributed to area hot meal programs.
Soon after the fledgling Food Gatherers reached out to the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, and since then market vendors have provided an incredible amount of food. Last year roughly 44,000 pounds of food was donated at the various weekly farmers market days vendor-by-vendor one to six banana boxes of goods at a time. The estimation is that over one million pounds of food have been put onto the plates of those in need by the market vendors through Food Gatherers.
Those who attend this special farmers market day to interact with Food Gatherers staff and volunteers can engage in a range of activities to support them, whether it’s just becoming informed about food insecurity in order to inform others of the problem, donate fresh produce from a home garden or the grocery store, or even step up to all of those empty plates that need filling as a volunteer.
Food Gatherers requires 7,000 volunteers yearly to drive its gathering, storing, and distribution efforts which delivers food equivalent to 14,000 meals per day to around 44,500 individuals, including nearly 10,000 children, through more than 150 programs and partners operating emergency pantries, meal programs and other food distributions in Washtenaw County.
“We’re very much about healthy eating,” Wreford said, pointing out that 60 percent of the food provided to those in need each year is fresh produce and protein, which requires a good deal of manpower to quickly collect from donors and distribute to the people it will nourish, since such items are not shelf stable products like canned goods and pasta.
“This is also an opportunity for us to celebrate our partnership with the farmers market and its vendors,” Wreford said. “It’s been a very fruitful partnership. We want people to see these vendors and know what they’re doing to help the people in their community who need help the most.”
Whole produce from market vendors or home gardens, and commercially-packaged non-perishables, will be gratefully accepted at the Food Gatherers booth. They cannot accept temperature-sensitive items, like meat or dairy at the booth.
Those who can’t make it to the farmers market donate food via the regular channel for doing so any weekday at the Food Gatherers warehouse at 1 Carrot Way off of Dhu Varren Rd. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and later on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. until 6:45 p.m.
The full donation guidelines for all kinds of food, including temperature-sensitive items, can be found on the Food Gatherers’ website.
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