Immediate Relief Starts with Food

Last spring, a young mother visited an emergency room at the Henry Ford Healthcare System, reporting concerns of high blood sugar and abdominal pain. She was treated for an abdominal skin abscess, provided antibiotics and discharged. Knowing that her condition was most likely caused by untreated diabetes, she was referred to Henry Ford’s mobile integrated health service team, which helps provide complementary care by understanding the full picture of a patient’s well-being.

During their visit, the Henry Ford team learned that the patient’s family, including her five-year-old daughter, were living with a relative and in crowded conditions. The patient was out of work due to her health. There wasn’t sufficient food available in the household and the family did not have money for groceries. In addition to providing a prescription for insulin, the team also provided emergency food boxes from Gleaners.

“The food helped the patient get control of the emergency they were dealing with in that moment, and the relief also helped them work out a plan,” said Alex Plum, Director, Clinical & Social Health Integration at Henry Ford Health System. “She is a success story because two weeks after her emergency room visit, her diabetes treatment had stabilized, and her abscess was healing. She also reported more confidence and control over her outcomes.”

Henry Ford Healthcare System is just one of the many partners helping Gleaners provide nutritious food to vulnerable people and households who are in urgent need of emergency food during the pandemic. While we continue to reach an average of 150,000 household each month, we know additional people may be going hungry. Together with our partners like Henry Ford, Gleaners is reaching people in their greatest moment of need—many of whom cannot attend our drive-up food distribution sites due to a range of access barriers.

Immediate Relief for Healthcare Patients

When the pandemic hit Michigan, healthcare patients became a top-priority demographic to reach through our food distributions. Michiganders with chronic illness and immunodeficiencies, as well as those who had contracted the COVID-19 virus, were instantly home bound. Through partnerships with healthcare providers and grass-roots community organizations throughout the region, Gleaners has reached more than 10,000 low-income healthcare patients and counting.

Providing Healthy Food for Young Mothers

Pregnancy can be difficult to navigate—especially during a global pandemic. For many years, Gleaners has been partnering with Teen Infant Parenting Services (T.I.P.S.), a two-year service program that provides basic needs and transitional housing for homeless mothers (ages 18-24) and their children. Gleaners has helped provide nutrition education and cooking courses for the young women. During the pandemic, T.I.P.S. has continued to help the mothers with food assistance, and even providing grocery shopping services for those most in need. The current crisis has impacted the lives of each resident, and food insecurity has become a major issue for T.I.P.S. as they help their residents navigate various food assistance systems. Gleaners has been able to provide immediate relief through our emergency food box program. “The girls are really enjoying the food. This not only helps during the pandemic, but it will help in the recession ahead,” said the program’s supervisor Andrea Dye-Farginson. “The ability for them to stock up on shelf-stable food and know how to eat well—that is a huge help.”

Households headed by single mothers are especially vulnerable to food insecurity, according to the USDA. In April, surveys conducted by the Brookings Institute found that 40% of single mothers with children under 12 reported that their household did not have sufficient access to food.

Gleaners’ work to combat food insecurity for households with young children continues. Nearly 85% of households who attend our drive-up food distributions are families with young children. Through this work and our emergency food box partnerships, we aim to be a reliable resource for young parents throughout southeast Michigan.

Serving Our Veterans

Before the pandemic crisis, more than half of America’s veterans lived paycheck to paycheck. With that, more than one million veterans struggled with the chronic stress of hunger. Gleaners has been focused on expanding our partnerships to reach more veterans right where they live.

John D. Dingell Detroit VA Medical Center is one of Gleaners’ many partners in Detroit. Since May, the center has helped distribute 500 emergency food boxes to their patients through drive-up food distributions and home deliveries. “This helps us reach about 25 patients per week. These are folks are our most vulnerable,” said William Browning, Chief Volunteer and Community Relations. “Our patients are veterans of the Persian Gulf way back to the Korean war. Our elderly patients enjoy the distributions not only for the food, but for the social aspect as well. It’s become an important part of their comprehensive care.”

“Getting the food means that I can feed my family a balanced meal.”
–Army Veteran Michael Cooper during a food distribution at John D. Dingell Detroit VA Medical Center

Gleaners has also partnered with the American Legion to help reach more veterans across the state. Don Howard, Chairman of the American Legion Department of Affairs & Rehabilitation State of Michigan, has helped Gleaners provide more than 3,000 boxes to veterans as far away as Marquette. “I want to make sure no veteran is without food or a place to live,” said Howard. “I oversee 400 Legion posts that serve 600,000 veterans,” said Howard. “I see the need and know first-hand how people have been hurt with this economic downturn. There is a great need for this food, especially in our rural areas.” The American Legion has helped produce many food distributions in Gleaners’ service area, including ongoing events in Wyandotte and Allen Park. “We’re just tickled about this partnership—everyone is. Gleaners has been a tremendous partner.”

Aid for Our Detroit Communities

Feeding America projects that food insecurity in Wayne County may increase to 22% for the general population and 30% for children. In Detroit, nearly half of all households are food insecure. An individual’s well-being should not be determined by their zip code, yet many Detroiters are faced with overwhelming inequalities, including access to healthy food.

For years, Gleaners has been expanding distribution of nutrition food to our guests, including fresh fruits and vegetables. Research shows that healthy food can treat and even reverse wide-spread health issues, including hypertension, cholesterol and diabetes. Coincidentally, these are some of the health issues that make COVID-19 more deadly.  

One of our growing partnerships to help address this inequality is Wayne Metro Community Action Agency. At the start of the pandemic, Wayne Metro helped identify areas with the highest need, helping Gleaners host four food distribution sites that operate once a month. “The guests love the food—especially the dairy and the greens,” said Michele Robinson, Executive Director of Basic Needs. “They count on the food. They get here early to watch the cabbage, corn, apples and oranges unload off the truck.” 

A specific area of focus is District 6 in southwest Detroit. “One location we identified had only one grocery store in the area, which had recently burned down. Today, it’s one of the highest volume sites,” said Robinson. “The feedback and gratitude for us being there is overwhelming.”

Recently, the Michigan Department of Agriculture highlighted that 19 Detroit neighborhoods are without full-line grocers. Noting that 35% of Detroiters do not have access to a vehicle, traveling to stores with sufficient supplies of nutritious foods might be difficult for the tens of thousands of people living in these areas—especially during the pandemic. For those who cannot attend the drive-up and walk-up food distribution sites, Wayne Metro helps organize home deliveries.

“This has been my very first foray into food. I was completely green—I knew nothing about food security,” said Robinson. “I can’t wait to expand our projects to fight hunger and add it to our greater work to improve social determinants of health and wellness in Detroit.”

Partnering to Reach Out Most Vulnerable

While the pandemic crisis has elevated the need for emergency food, it has also strengthened our ability to help those most in need. Gleaners continues to be the link between nutritious food and our hungry neighbors, which is only possible with the support of our community. Together with more than 500 partners, we are building capacity for Michigan’s emergency food assistance network and helping to feed specific groups of people most at-risk. One important thing that will grow from the pandemic crisis will be a more equitable and accessible path toward a hunger free community.