Fresh Market Pantry: Access that Changes Lives

Serving Fresh Produce and Dairy to Working Families

UPDATE: This article was written prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the state of emergency, Gleaners continues to deliver fresh produce and other nutritious food to our partner agency network. Gleaners is also providing emergency food to those in need through new food distribution sites throughout southeast Michigan.  Visit our emergency response page for a full update.

It is 4:00 p.m. on a Thursday. While most of the workforce is wrapping up their day, the staff and volunteers at Gleaners’ Shared Harvest Pantry in Livingston County are just getting started. They are rolling out carts of lettuce, milk, and eggs. Boxes of squash and bananas are being arranged between aisles. Refrigerator cases are lined with fresh tomatoes, bags of carrots and grapes, pre-cut cabbage and fresh herbs. If a passerby were to look in the window, they might mistake the emergency food pantry for a produce market.

“Fresh Market Pantry is my absolute favorite thing we have done here,” said Roni Lundy, Livingston Operations Manager. Roni and her team helped start this new initiative, which is hosted inside Shared Harvest Pantry, in September 2019.

The impetus behind the project is to get more healthy food into the hands of people who need it most: children and struggling families. The Fresh Market Pantry is open to anyone in need of food assistance, and runs every Thursday from 5:00-7:00 p.m. “Having immediate access to fresh produce, during a time that works for their schedule, is changing lives,” said Roni.

“People love the food. They are telling me they feel better. I had one guest tell me that her husband reported lower blood sugar.”

Before the doors opened at 5:00 p.m., there was a line of ten people at the door. Clients entered, grabbed a basket, and began to shop. A couple picked out fresh fruit for their six-year-old son who is diabetic. A single father grabbed a bunch of bananas and eggs for his two young children at home. Alecia Gleason, a single mother of three, walked the aisles with her two children, Abby and Nathan. “I feel healthy again,” said Alecia. “I have to stretch my budget every day. If we have healthy food in the house, it goes to the kids. With this market, now I get to eat healthy too.”

Alecia and one of her children struggle with severe ADHD. Diets rich in protein and vitamins help control symptoms, but only if you avoid sugar, artificial flavors, and other common allergens present in processed food. Alecia described the Fresh Market as ‘a godsend’ that has helped her get through the hardest weeks. “It’s just so amazing. The support we get here means I won’t run out of gas, and that we have other necessities.”

Gleaners’ commitment to providing access to healthy food continued in 2019, with more than 16 million pounds of fresh produce distributed throughout southeast Michigan. Fresh food comes from a range of food donors, as well as through partnerships with local farmers and food producers. The Fresh Market Pantry model helps ensure that these healthy perishable foods make it to families with growing children. “This pilot really helps us understand the food gap,” said Bridget Brown, Director of Food Secure Livingston. “Now our families have a way to get fresh food in the moment, right when they need it.” A typical emergency food pantry has set daytime hours and may require guests to schedule appointments ahead of time. The existing model may not reach working families that need after-hours, weekly access right in their time of need.

Gleaners’ pantry in Livingston reaches an average of 40-50 families a day during its six to ten hours of operations. The Fresh Market Pantry pilot serves an average of 60-80 families with fresh produce and dairy within a two-hour window. Learnings from the pilot are being implemented in several new Fresh Market Pantry initiatives launching at Gleaners’ partner agencies in spring 2020.

The pilot program and ongoing initiatives focused on providing fresh produce and dairy will help Gleaners launch a 1,000-2,000 square-foot dedicated Fresh Market Pantry. The pantry concept would be open six days a week with hours into the evening, offering convenient weekly access to nutritious food for people in need.

Fresh Market Pantry is made possible with support of the county, health systems, nonprofit pantries and shelters and local supporters like you. Stay up-to-day on our Fresh Market Pantry initiative.

“This has been life-changing. It’s saved me from running out of money at the end of the month. The milk alone is worth coming in—and we are able to get much more healthy food.”
–Susan Benes

Gleaners’ Strategic Priorities at Work with Fresh Market Pantry

Scale Up Solutions That Work

After the success of the Fresh Market Pantry pilot in Livingston, the model is being implemented in three of Gleaners’ partner agencies and counting.

Meet people where they are

By offering drop-in evening-hour access to fresh produce, Gleaners is increasing our distribution of highly nutritious food to more people in need.

Learn more about Gleaners’ strategic priorities.