October 17, 2021

Cast-off food finds a different fate in northern Michigan

The Detour
By Clark Miller | Aug. 12, 2017

With little mention, countless rescues are taking place every week across the Grand Traverse area. None involve boating accidents or even a stubborn cat up a tree. Those rescued are vegetables, dairy products, and other goods diverted from dumpsters and destined instead to feed hungry people in Leelanau, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Antrim, and Kalkaska counties.

A Huge Undertaking
Every weekday, Goodwill’s Food Rescue vans visit grocery stores like Lucky’s Market, Oleson’s, Tom’s, Meijer, and Village Market; numerous restaurants; food co-ops like Oryana (which gets three visits per week); and dozens of farmers scattered throughout the region.

The size of the operation is surprising.

Food Rescue now provides roughly one million pounds of food each year to a total of nearly 50 food pantries and meal-serving sites.

The need is great: An estimated 21,000 people in Food Rescue’s service area live in poverty, and many more individuals and families are just one unlucky event away from needing help.

Hard, Urgent Work
Drivers are paid and, as my recent visit to the loading dock at Lucky’s makes clear, they earn it. By the time Taylor Moore of Food Rescue and his volunteer, Vern Barker, are ready to leave Lucky’s, they have completely filled a very large, refrigerated Sprinter van. It’s doubtful even one more box would fit in the truck.  

They have to work quickly; most of the food is perishable.

If it were just a matter of haphazardly throwing everything into the truck, the loading time could probably be cut in half. But they take the time to throw out unusable items.

As the van fills, Moore and Barker also have to arrange (and rearrange) the load several times so that when they begin the next phase — making deliveries — the right items are easier to find.

Grateful Recipients
Once the van arrives at a meal site or pantry, you quickly start to understand what a vital role Food Rescue plays in fighting hunger throughout the Grand Traverse region.

At our first stop, Central United Methodist in Traverse City, staff members and volunteers quickly descend upon the truck and select what the kitchen needs that day. There’s a sense of urgency. Hungry people are waiting just a few steps away in the church basement.

“When the Food Rescue truck pulls up, it’s like getting up on Christmas morning,” says Central United Methodist’s food coordinator Jane Lippert. “It’s like opening a present.”

Why People Donate Food
Moore says there are several reasons why nearly 160 food donors now contribute to Food Rescue on a regular basis.

First, there is the practical business case: potential tax savings. Food given to a 501(c)(3) like Food Rescue is tax deductible. For donors’ financial records, and to track Food Rescue’s own progress, drivers keep a running tally of the weight and type of food they collect.

Food Rescue also has an environmental side: It offers an important alternative to simply throwing away vast quantities of food. That is especially true of produce, which now makes up nearly 40 percent of all food collected. Rescued in time, that produce can provide many healthful meals.

But tax and environmental savings aside, enthusiasm for Food Rescue is about something far more significant.

“I don’t know if the tax savings are worth the work of setting all that food aside,” says Donna Hogard, who handles communications and events for Food Rescue. “At the heart of it, it’s an investment in the community. Really it’s more about taking care of people.”

Taylor Moore agrees.

As he makes his rounds, he sees people who find a deep joy in helping others.

“Produce managers, for example, tell me it makes them happy to be a part of feeding hungry people,” he says. “They thank us and say they’re glad to see the food used this way. “

Those positive vibes extend as well to Food Rescue staff and volunteers.

In Moore’s opinion, this kind of work “forces you into being grateful.”

“We get to meet so many people who are doing incredible things.”

How to Donate Money to Food Rescue
·       Go to GoodwillNMI.org and click “Food”
·       Then click “Food Rescue – Rescued for Good”
·       Click “Donate and Do Good” at bottom of that page
·       Use the link on that page to donate directly to Food Rescue

Food Rescue
·       Visits 160 food donor sites
·       Serves 34 food pantries and 14 meal sites
·       Covers a service area of roughly 1,000 square miles
·       Needs more volunteers. Call 231-995-7725 for details.
·       Estimates 21,000 people in Grand Traverse area are living in poverty
·       Relies on donations and grants for operating funds
·       Asks food donors to call (231) 995-7723

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