Editor’s Note: During the North American International Auto Show, Detroit Unspun/The HUB will bring you stories of what the auto industry is doing to help improve Detroit’s neighborhoods.
Throughout the day heavy-duty trucks from Forgotten Harvest come and go, picking up food left over from grocery stores, trendy restaurants, fruit and vegetable markets, restaurants, caterers, dairies, farmers, wholesale food distributors and other Health Department-approved sources.
That food is then brought back to the organization’s headquarters in Oak Park where it is processed and repackaged, usually by volunteers, and sent back out to feed the hungry in Detroit and surrounding areas. Oftentimes those volunteers will be from one of the automakers or their suppliers.
A logistical strategy keeps Forgotten Harvest in motion. The organization, founded in 1990, has become one of the best known community organizations in metro Detroit and a beacon for subsidy and volunteer assistance by the automakers and their suppliers.
Forgotten Harvest collects surplus prepared and perishable food from 800 sources and delivers it free-of-charge to 280 emergency food providers around Detroit. It “rescued” 41 million pounds of food last year.
The need is great. One in five people, nearly 672,000 people, still face hunger and poverty in metro Detroit.
“The people making the auto companies successful in Southeast Michigan have a strong interest in helping communities thrive,” says Kirk Mayes, CEO of Forgotten Harvest. “We have a particular business model that taps the expertise of the auto industry. We, like them, rely heavily on logistics to get work done.”
At least 18,000 hours of service were logged by the auto companies and suppliers. Four of the top six ganizations subsidize the food pantry, including Ford, Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, General Motors and Lear.
Thanks to Nissan North America, about 50 automotive journalists were recruited in December to sort 5,200 pounds of food, including cabbages to be delivered to those in need.
“This was a way the journalists and our company could give back to an important organization,” says Wendy Payne, spokesperson for the automaker who helped arrange the effort for the past three years.
Once more General Motors helped support the “Million Meal Challenge for Kids.” Last summer it helped fight hunger by helping distribute nutritious, fresh food to vulnerable children in the Detroit metropolitan area during the summer, when they don’t have access to school breakfast and lunch programs.
Just before Christmas Mercedes-Benz Financial Services (MBFS) donated a new 2016 Freightliner (Class 6) refrigerated truck to Forgotten Harvest. It was the sixth vehicle MBFS has sponsored for Forgotten Harvest since 2007. In addition to the truck, it also made a special donation to help Forgotten Harvest provide an additional 5,000 holiday meals for local families in need.
The new clean-burning truck replaces an older refrigerated box trucks. A grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) awarded to Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision (SDEV) helped underwrite the cost of the truck.
For the third consecutive year Ram Truck brand volunteers brought their Ram trucks to Forgotten Harvest’s farm in Fenton last September where they harvested several thousand pounds of corn.
Two years ago, Ram Trucks partnered with Case IH and Holland Agriculture to donate more than $400,000 worth of farming equipment to Forgotten Harvest for use at its farm in Macomb County. Ram Trucks also donated a 2013 Ram 3500 ST.
Also in 2013, the Chrysler Foundation partnered with Forgotten Harvest to provide free nutritious snacks to school-aged children who attend after school reading programs at Detroit Public Library sites throughout the city.
GM, Lear, TI Automotive, UAW Local 900 and the UAW – GM Center for Human Resources were sponsors of Forgotten Harvest’s annual Cruisin’ to Drive Out Hunger, which is held during the Woodward Dream Cruise, a 16-mile classic car procession all the way from Ferndale to Pontiac. Forgotten Harvest is the official charity partner of the Woodward Dream Cruise.
Many automakers, suppliers and dealers also sponsor Comedy Night, Forgotten Harvest’s annual fundraiser. They include GM, Lear, Bridgestone, Toyota, Suburban Collection, Dana Holding Corp., Cooper Standard and Heidebreicht Chevrolet.
The auto companies and suppliers do more than provide volunteers and donations. Many of their executives have taken a leading role in working with the organization.
The volunteer board of directors includes Lori Wingerter, vice president of the GM Foundation, who also serves on the executive committee, and board members Randy Kummer, president, Global Audit Services at Lear Corp., Cynthia Ford, wife of Edsel Ford II, a member of Ford’s board of directors, and Peter Zieringer, CEO of Mercedes-Benz Financial Services. Detroit Unspun/TheHUB’s Executive Director Marge Sorge also sits on the board.
“Forgotten Harvest delivers on the investment of dollars and volunteers. There is a clear understanding of the impact on the lives of those less fortunate and, just as importantly, the resources required to do that job efficiently and effectively,” says Mayes. He notes the organization is one of the world’s largest food rescue organizations fighting hunger and waste.
Among the organizations served are the Salvation Army, Detroit Rescue Mission, Focus Hope, Mariner’s Inn, Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS), and Michigan Veteran’s Foundation. Thirty-four trucks cover 500,000 miles annually serving Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. A staff of 30 people drives full- and part-time on logistics detail.
“Ninety-six percent of every dollar is spent on program services, the bulk of which supports our truck fleet,” says Mayes.
That level of efficiency earned Forgotten Harvest a four-star ranking from Charity Navigator for nine consecutive years. Only one percent of charities achieve that ranking.
“We get work done,” says Mayes.
Plenty of volunteers would agree … and go back to do more.