Ann Arbor Area Community News
Food Gatherers marked its 20th anniversary last weekend with little fanfare, as its staff and thousands of volunteers strain to keep up with requests for help from Washtenaw County residents.
The nonprofit organization delivered a fifth more food last year than the year before, and expects to see a significant increase for 2008, as well. Although Food Gatherers has been steadily growing since its inception, CEO Eileen Spring said she’s noticed a troubling new trend this year that she blames on the faltering economy. Some people who used to donate time or money are now turning to Food Gatherers for help. Many of them are middle-class Ann Arborites, earning more than $50,000 per year, but who are “quickly finding themselves in a precarious situation,” Spring said, because of the housing crisis and the statewide downturn. “A lot of folks are one paycheck away from pretty dire circumstances,” she said. Food Gatherers will need to receive even more donations than last year, in the form of food and cash, if it is to keep up with demand this year.
The cash donations are just as important as the food. As requests for help have increased, so have the costs of giving that help. Delivering 20 percent more food has meant that operating costs increased by about 20 percent as well, Spring explained. Food Gatherers has been especially hard hit by the cost of gasoline: Every pound of food has to be picked up by the organization’s five trucks and some of it must also be delivered to other nonprofit agencies. Although an event was planned Sunday, to show appreciation for the volunteers who have kept Food Gatherers going, the organization is more intensely focused this year on overcoming the disparity between supply and demand, Spring said.”
Food gatherers began as an offshoot of Zingerman’s two decades ago. Today it is a stand-alone nonprofit with its own budget and an army of 4,500 volunteers to carry out its work. They collect food from 300 sources in Washtenaw County, including Busch’s grocery stores, Gordon Food Service, dormitories on the U of M and EMU campuses, and Tio’s restaurants. Every day, they redistribute about six tons of food to 150 community programs—enough of it to create 8,500 meals.
Over the past two decades, the organization has delivered 32 million pounds of food for hungry people. Anyone who wants to help, or who needs help, can find out more at the Food Gatherers web site.
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