How It Works
Serving Our Community
Food Gatherers is the largest anti-hunger program in Washtenaw County. We partner with a network of hunger-relief partners that includes agencies and programs providing direct food assistance through schools, clinics, low-income housing complexes, shelters, counseling programs, and faith-based organizations, as well as programs serving seniors, the disabled or those with mental illness, and substance abuse recovery programs. By providing free or very low-cost food to our partners, they can serve their communities and direct their own funds toward the vital human services they provide. Visit our Community Partners page to learn more.
Fighting Hunger Where We Live
Food Gatherers’ mission is to alleviate hunger and eliminate its causes in our community. As the food bank and food rescue program serving Washtenaw County, we do this by connecting valuable food resources to programs that serve those in need. In FY2020, Food Gatherers distributed 7.8 million pounds of food — the equivalent of 6.6 million meals. This is made possible thanks to the support of many volunteers, community partners, and donors.
Here’s a closer look at how we work (click to enlarge):
Where food comes from
The food we distribute comes from three sources: food rescue, purchases, and federally-funded programs.
- Food rescue and drives: Food is donated to Food Gatherers by individuals, businesses, and farmers. Our largest source of donated food comes from our food rescue program. Food Gatherers rescues food that would otherwise go to waste from local sources including food retailers, food wholesalers, and local farmers. Last year, 30% of the food we distributed was rescued food — approximately 2.4 million pounds.
- Purchased food: Food Gatherers purchases bulk food to help fill the gaps in high-demand items that are not donated regularly, including dairy and meat. We can purchase food at lower prices, turning donated dollars into more meals. We prioritize distributing nutritious food that is low-sodium, whole grain, and high in protein. We provide the more expensive foods that are crucial to a healthy diet like fresh produce and protein, allowing beneficiaries to use their financial resources to purchase other less expensive foods.
- Government resources: As members of the Food Bank Council of Michigan and Feeding America, we are connected to state and national corporate and government food sources. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) purchases food from farmers and provides it to food banks for distribution in their communities, providing billions of meals across the nation to our neighbors facing hunger each year.
Sorting and distributing
When food arrives at our warehouse, staff and volunteers weigh, inspect, and inventory each item. Volunteers are essential to our operations. Annually, more than 5,500 people volunteer to help rescue and distribute food on food runs, inspect and sort fresh and nonperishable donations, and repackage bulk items.
Once the food is sorted and ready to be distributed, our warehouse team assembles the orders for each partner program. Our 10 drivers, called food runners, are scheduled for more than 61 runs each week. These include deliveries to more than 67 of our partner agencies and pickups from about 40 local grocery stores.
In the morning, our trucks leave the warehouse filled with food. After delivering to our partners, the empty trucks stop at local retailers to collect rescued food. The drivers return to the warehouse, unload the food to be sorted, and then repeat the process again in the afternoon!
Alleviating hunger and eliminating causes
Food Gatherers and our network of partners work to make sure that anyone in need has access to the amount and types of food they need to live a healthy life. We strategically fill the gaps in the safety net system by creating our own direct service programs or leveraging existing federal programs. Our goal is that each year 60% of all food distributed will be protein and fresh produce (view our Nutrition Policy).
Whenever possible, we use food as a tool to address the root causes of food insecurity. We have partnered with local organizations to provide culinary training to youth at risk of homelessness and we partnered with Avalon Housing to create permanently affordable housing next to our warehouse. We also support the communities we serve by educating the public about food insecurity and advocating for legislation that makes ending hunger a priority.