Building Community: Gleaners Community Food Bank

WRITER | NICOLETTE CHAMBERY
PHOTOS |GLEANERS FOOD BANK

Feeding Hungry People and Nourishing Communities

Southeast Michigan’s Gleaners Community Food Bank is an exemplary model of how organizations within a community can come together for the greater good. Gleaners’ good works and strong business workings have grown since the organization started in 1977, last year assisting 430,000 people with 42 million pounds of food distributed throughout the state.

Gene Gonya cofounded Gleaners, one of the first food banks in America, over 40 years ago. He rented space next to a soup kitchen where he could gather and process excess food collected from and donated by the local community. This massive storage space was key because no other agencies were able to accept and store large donations at the time. Gonya funneled truckloads of produce to surrounding food banks and churches that were empowered to directly assist hundreds, and eventually thousands, of disadvantaged individuals and families.

Gonya, who is known for his energy, generosity, and overall vision to help those in need, went on to cofound Feeding America. This national campaign and food bank assists agencies of all kinds to feed more than 46 million individuals across the country each year.

Unsurprisingly, Gonya has won numerous awards for his pioneering efforts to change the lives of so many over the last four decades. In August 1983, he was featured in an edition of Reader’s Digest, and Crain’s Detroit Business named Gleaners the best-managed nonprofit in 1990. Now in retirement, Gonya volunteers his time serving on an array of boards while remaining active in athletics and traveling with his wife Judy.

An integral part of Southeast Michigan’s Gleaners staff is marketing and communications director Stacy Kessel, who thoughtfully explains the significance of their effort. “Gleaners’ work is more than just food storage and distribution. It takes a weight off of people’s shoulders, allowing them to make it through a week more focused, without the fear of running out of groceries. It’s more than just an apple — it is an opportunity to move forward.”

Kessel has always had a vested interest in her community and was drawn to this role because of the opportunity to work alongside others. “Food is so elemental; I can’t imagine not being able to feed my daughter or having to choose between feeding my family and paying my bills,” she said.

Currently, there are around 670,000 individuals who are food insecure in Southeast Michigan. While Gleaners reaches over half of them, there are still hundreds of thousands who go to work and school each day without the security of knowing that they will have enough food for the evening and subsequent days.

The task ahead for Gleaners is to continue building new relationships and strengthening existing ones to increase its efficacy. Over the next several years, the organization plans to do new types of distribution and to integrate health care operatives to more comprehensively nourish the population of Southeast Michigan.

There are a number of ways to participate in this grand work, from collecting donated food to donating money for Gleaners to purchase food at discounted rates. They also run a virtual food drive, where supporters can purchase the most needed items online. Another helpful way to empower the agency is to sponsor one of its special events. There is an open invitation to join the tens of thousands of volunteers who donate their time at Gleaners.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others.”

That is certainly the mandate that pervades the staff and mission of Gleaner’s Community Food Bank; perhaps it should be ours as well.

Gleaners Food Bank 2131 Beaufait, Detroit MI 48207 l (866) 453-2637 l GCFB.org