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Born in 1940, Gene Gonya grew up on the family farm in Ohio. At age 19, he became a Brother in the Jesuit Religious Community believing in their motto of "doing all for the greater honor and glory of God."
In 1977, Gene chose to leave the Jesuit Community and continue his mission of community service as a lay person of the Catholic Church. In April of 1977, he co-founded Gleaners Community Food Bank, renting the first floor of a warehouse on Detroit's near-eastside, a stone's throw from the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. The food bank was founded to solicit surplus food, store it safely, and distribute it to agencies that are the direct providers to the hungry of our communities. The food bank could now accept donations such as truckloads of produce from Gene's family farm and "bank" it for small or large organizations serving the community, since none of these service agencies could accept such large donations.
Gleaners was among the first food banks in the United States. Several years after founding Gleaners, Gene and a few other food banks founded Second Harvest, a national network of food bank members (now called Feeding America). Gene also helped found the Food Bank Council of Michigan.
Gene may have heard the Biblical story of Ruth and Naomi (who gleaned in the fields of Boaz, a rich Israeli farmer) in his own home where family devotions were a part of daily life. He goes a step further than Boaz and does the gleaning for the poor. Due to his vision and management skills and boundless energy, numerous food banks and agencies have been organized to serve those in need.
Gene has received much acclaim, with numerous community service awards and proclamations for his efforts. He was featured in an August, 1983 issue of Readers Digest, as well as They Light Up Our Life, a book by Will Hardy about outstanding Detroit citizens. Crain’s Detroit Business named Gleaners Community Food Bank the best managed not-for-profit in 1990.
Gene has served on the advisory committees and board of many other human service organizations, including COTS and the Mariners Inn. He is a graduate of Leadership Detroit, VII. Gene is enjoying his retirement with sports activities and travel adventures with his wife, Judy.
To see how Gleaners has grown over the years, check out our downloadable chronology.
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