The cumulative efforts of many can have big results.
In the past fiscal year, Food Gatherers collected 5.2 million pounds of food and delivered it to their 150 partner agencies in Washtenaw County for distribution to the needy, according to Mary Schlitt, director of development. This was accomplished by a staff of about 20 – assisted by about 5,000 volunteers.
“It’s something hands-on that I can do and see the results right away. And I have the philosophy of giving back to the community,” volunteer Nan Wirth said. “Plus it’s a fun place to be; everyone who works here is very nice. The volunteers are great; it’s a good social situation here, too.”
Wirth, an Ann Arborite, has been volunteering regularly at Food Gatherers since a little before it opened its new headquarters in 2003 at 1 Carrot Way in north Ann Arbor.
Bob Milstein, also from Ann Arbor, has been volunteering for 20 years. He said that he started by folding newsletters. He went on to help with pick-ups and deliveries on one of the agency’s trucks with the iconic carrot emblazoned on the side. More recently he has been stocking shelves in the warehouse.
Milstein also works at the two big events the agency hosts each year, “Rockin’ for the Hungry,” held in December at the Kroger Market on Maple and “Grillin’ for Food Gatherers” held in June at Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds on Ann Arbor-Saline Road.
The Rockin’ event is affectionately known among volunteers as “Freezin’ for a Reason,” because it is usually quite cold. Milstein recalled one year when he was standing so close to the heater to keep warm that his pants caught on fire. He was uninjured and the story is now brought up to evoke a laugh.
Another volunteer opportunity though Food Gatherers is the Community Kitchen in the Delonis Center at 312 Huron Street in Ann Arbor.
While the agency’s central mission is food recovery, according to Schlitt, it does have this one direct-to-consumer venue. Volunteers at Community Kitchen cook and serve three meals a day each weekday and two every Saturday and Sunday. This adds up to about 100,000 individual meals per year. Schlitt recommends this assignment for new volunteers because they can directly see the impact of their work.
For those who like to work in the dirt, there is the Gathering Farm. Dan Calderone, known as “Farmer Dan,” is in charge of a half-acre garden at the Food Gatherers headquarters. Volunteers help with planting, maintaining and of course, gathering. Calderone proudly described how he oversaw the delivery of tons of compost from the City of Ann Arbor to create this productive garden. This year it yielded squash, melons, peppers, green beans, beets, turnips, leeks and carrots.
Can parents put their children to work for a charity? With Food Gatherers, absolutely.
“We get requests for it a lot,” said Schlitt. “A lot of people want to have a volunteer experience with their child at really young ages. So we have certain structured activities that we are able to accommodate on a limited basis.”
Children as young as five can help sort produce when accompanied by a parent.
Food Gatherers can also accommodate large groups. For example, industries like Ford Motor Company, that actively encourage community involvement by their employees have sent as many as 60 volunteers at once. They process food donations assembly-line style.
“Volunteerism has been critical to the organization from the very beginning,” Schlitt said.
Food Gatherers’ mission, as cofounder Paul Saginaw of Zingerman’s Deli first envisioned it in 1988, was to reduce food waste, to fight hunger and to provide an opportunity for community members to become engaged through volunteering.
Twenty-three years later it is doing just that – and doing it well.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities at Food Gatherers, visit: http://foodgatherers.org, or call (734) 761-2796.