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Like my grandpa said, ‘feed the hungry’ … Forgotten Harvest has done that for 25 years and its job is far from done

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All the time I was growing up my mom and my Aunt Rene told me stories about how my grandparents helped those less fortunate during the Great Depression. “We always had someone staying with us or had someone or some family at the dinner table,” they said.

You see my wonderful Swedish Grandpa was a butcher and owned a grocery story so they figured they had enough to go around. They always kept the back door open. It was a life lesson shared throughout our family. In fact, when my aunt died a year ago one of the songs at the funeral was “Keep the Back Door Open.”

So when Nora Moroun shared her story at Forgotten Harvest’s 25th anniversary celebration it brought back those memories.

When Nora was child she would visit her grandparents. During lunch her grandmother would sometimes fix an additional sandwich and put it in a bag with an apple for a hungry person at the door. “Grandma made me pray at night that someone else would leave the door open (for a hungry person),” she said.

Nora left that door wide open when she and her family donated 115 acres of land in Fenton to Forgotten Harvest to begin a farming operation in 2013. That farm had been in the Moroun family for generations. The farm harvested more than 1.4 million pounds of fresh produce in only its second year of operation. Thousands of volunteers come to work on the farm and Moroun says “no one goes home without a smile on their face.”

Forgotten Harvest founder Dr. Nancy Fishman

Forgotten Harvest founder Dr. Nancy Fishman

Forgotten Harvest founder Dr. Nancy Fishman refers to those who have donated their time, talent and treasure to the food rescue organization over the last quarter century as “angels on our shoulders.” She’s had some angels herself.

As a young, single mom Fishman found herself counting on a food bank to feed her two-year-old daughter and herself as she worked her way through college. Today she is one of the most influential women in the Metro Detroit.

She started Forgotten Harvest in 1990 by delivering foo d out of the back of her Jeep as a way to give back after so many helped her. Shortly after that the first refrigerated truck arrived … from anonymous donors who heard of her efforts to collect surplus food.

She hoped then to deliver 1,000 meals a month. She hit that mark in six months. Today Forgotten Harvest is one of America’s largest, and metro Detroit’s only, food rescue organizations. In 2014 it rescued 48.8 million pounds of food from 800 food donor locations such as farms, manufacturers, dairies, food distributors, grocers and entertainment venues. That excess food would have ended up in a landfill. All of it is donated free of charge.

“Together, we have made great strides over the past 25 years, but our job at Forgotten Harvest is ‘Far From Done,’’’ said Forgotten Harvest CEO Kirk Mayes. “One in five people, nearly 672,000 people, still face hunger and poverty in metro Detroit. Every year, 70 billion pounds of food is wasted in our country. We are firm in our resolve and conviction that we will see the day that no child, no family, no senior in metro Detroit will have to face the indignity of hunger or lack of food.”

Forgotten Harvest’s fleet of 35 trucks is on the road six days a week and travel 500,000 miles a year picking up and delivering food in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties. It is a lifeline of support for 280 emergency food providers … food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens and faith-based organizations.

Plus, since July 2012, 32,000 volunteers have joined the Rescue Team to help prepare food for distribution daily at the Forgotten Harvest headquarters/warehouse in Oak Park and to help harvest produce at the Forgotten Harvest Farms. Last year 16,000 volunteers dedicated more than 92,000 hours of service to help those less fortunate.

06_Forgotten Harvest Brochure2That’s only the tip of the food chain.

Remember those angels on our shoulders I mentioned earlier? Harold and Kay (no last name) anonymously donated $50,000 in recognition of the organization’s 25th anniversary. The Harold and Kay Grant is a matching grant challenge. Every dollar matched will provide 10 meals for those in need.

At its recent 25th anniversary celebration Forgotten Harvest announced several other initiatives that will help sustain the organization and offer potential new revenue streams in the future as it continues its core mission and innovative rescue model. These include:

  • Forgotten Harvest brand of premium food products, which are expected to arrive for sale in the summer of 2015 at Kroger and Busch’s Fresh Food Market stores in southeast Michigan. There will be up to 30 different product items, including salad dressings, chips and salsas, hot sauces, trail mixes, premium confections, jams and jellies. Area food manufacturers will have the opportunity to grow distribution and increase sales through cause marketing by licensing their products under the Forgotten Harvest brand name. All profits from the sale of Forgotten Harvest branded food products will go to feed the hungry.
  • Forgotten Harvest’s for-profit social enterprise subsidiary Hopeful Harvest. Its processing center and commercial kitchen will enable independent food entrepreneurs to process their products economically and efficiently. Hopeful Harvest has 24 commercial accounts that span the complete spectrum of food retailing. There are currently seven employees. Employment is expected to double by the end of the year. Growth will continue as needed based on demand. Hopeful Harvest has initiated a workforce development program for food manufacturing and processing in partnership with Michigan State University and Southwest Solutions. The focus is to employ veterans and employment-challenged individuals. All Hopeful Harvest profits go to feed the hungry.

One company taking advantage of the Hopeful Harvest is drinkable vinegar maker McClary Brothers. “The collaboration with Forgotten Harvest is huge,” said Jess McClary, McClary Brothers founder and CEO. “We had a 400 percent revenue growth in 2014 and it was made possible by Forgotten Harvest.” The product was being made in a shared kitchen in Ferndale.

To commemorate the 25th Anniversary Forgotten Harvest is raffling off a Jeep in partnership with The Jeep brand.  The top prize is a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4×4, and there are separate cash prizes of $10,000 and $2,500. The $50 per ticket raffle kicks off April 15. More details and opportunities to purchase tickets will be available at that time so check out the Forgotten Harvest website. Raffle ticket proceeds benefit the mission and operations of Forgotten Harvest.

Forgotten Harvest has kept both its front and back doors open for 25 years and as Mayes said, it is far from done.

“We should not be proud that we still have hungry people and children going to bed hungry,” Fishman said. “We will be here until every child is fed.”

– For complete disclosure, I am on the Forgotten Harvest Board of Directors and am privileged to be part of that team.

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