Twenty-five Detroit-area auto journalists, including me, took a break from pecking on computers to packing beef jerky at Forgotten Harvest this holiday season at the invitation of NissanUSA.
“People packed more than 4,000 pounds of jerky during a three-hour stint,” says Brook Ziomek, account representative for Nissan at Stratacom in Southfield. “For many it was a personal journey to help the homeless and hungry at the holidays.”
So many people offered to pack food for Forgotten Harvest of Oak Park the company had to turn some people away. Participants donned hair nets, beard and mustache nets, plastic aprons and gloves for the adventure. They were told to stash the smart phones because the device carries 10 times more bacteria than a public toilet seat.
Then the adventure began. Some helpers rolled in giant bins of frozen jerky that were scooped into smaller tubs and deposited on tables where others stuffed the product into quart-sized bags for distribution to 250 emergency food providers.
My hands nearly froze from handling all the frozen meat, but a gracious clerk gave me gloves to wear under sanitary plastic gloves, and I was fine for working all afternoon.
“My hands were frozen but I was encouraged to see enthusiastic people doing all the volunteer work,” says Steve Purdy, editor of Shunpiker Productions in Williamston. “For people who aren’t used to packing food, people did a pretty great job. Besides it was a chance to get to know people I didn’t know before.”
The Nissan team brainstormed for several sessions about what would make journalists come to their party during the competitive holiday season. “We thought of ways we could give back to Detroit,” Ziomek says. “We did a minisurvey and were pleasantly surprised by all the people interested in community service. We tried it and people loved it.”
For the past four years, journalists joined other groups of volunteers and individuals to pack food. Ziomek recalls the food bank put people to work packing potatoes, cabbages, hummus and meat. Some come back often to continue the experience and aid a deserving organization.
Forgotten Harvest “rescued” 40.9 million pounds of food last year by collecting surplus prepared and perishable food from 800 sources, including grocery stores, fruit and vegetable markets, restaurants, caterers, dairies, farmers, wholesale food distributors and other health department-approved sources. This donated food, which would otherwise go to waste, is delivered free-of-charge to 250 emergency food providers in the metro Detroit area.
The need is great. One in five people, nearly 672,000 people, still face hunger and poverty in metro Detroit, says Kirk Mayes, Forgotten Harvest CEO, who notes the organization was founded in 1990 and became one of the best known community organizations.
Nissan invited the Forgotten Harvest volunteers and other area auto journalists to a party at the Triple Nickel in Birmingham where they presented Forgotten Harvest with a $15,000 check.
“The people making the auto companies successful in Southeast Michigan have a strong interest in helping communities thrive,” says Mayes. “We have a particular business model that tapes the expertise of the auto industry. We, like them, rely heavily on logistics to get work done.”
– Pictures courtesy of Stratacom