When the COVID-19 pandemic swept across southeast Michigan, it set forth a chain of events that caused food insecurity to skyrocket overnight. Children lost access to free and reduced meals at school. Working parents faced mass layoffs and furloughs at their workplaces. Seniors and other high-risk groups struggled to safely shop for groceries.
Feeding America projects that one in five adults—and one in four children—may not have enough to eat in Gleaners’ service area of Livingston, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe, and Wayne counties. As hunger spiked nearly 44%, the emphasis on supporting area food banks became paramount.
The Suburban Collection, with its long history of philanthropic giving, immediately stepped up to the meet the challenge of providing healthy, nourishing food to their neighbors in need. The automotive group had partnered with Gleaners Community Food Bank in the past, but they wanted to do something bigger and more impactful than ever before. Through strategic planning, community engagement, hard work, and a healthy dose of fun, The Suburban Collection set an ambitious goal of providing 1 million meals to their hungry neighbors with their “Drive Away Hunger” campaign. We are so grateful for their generosity and are proud to announce that they achieved—and surpassed—their goal, ensuring food access for our most vulnerable neighbors.
A Unified Mission to Drive Away Hunger
The goal of the partnership between The Suburban Collection, Gleaners, and the “Drive Away Hunger” campaign was to help combat hunger, the most pressing issue facing southeastern Michigan at the time. The Suburban Collection has over 3,000 employees among their 54 locations, who, in previous years, raised millions for important causes through philanthropic competition between dealerships. Though the spirit of competition remained as a part of “Drive Away Hunger,” the galvanizing nature of a shared foe — rampant food insecurity brought on by the effects of a global pandemic – solidified The Suburban Collection’s mission. This year, the group had a new, collective mindset that helped create a groundswell of support.
“This year, competition seemed to take a backseat to everyone just helping everyone else do the best they possibly could,” said Angela Wilhelm, Community Engagement & Philanthropy Specialist at The Suburban Collection.
Employees at The Suburban Collection rallied around its unified goal of raising enough funds to supply 1 million meals to area neighbors in need. Originally, they had set a much smaller goal, but The Suburban Collection’s president and CEO, David Fischer Jr., believed that when given the opportunity, his employees and customers would rise to the challenge. With confidence in themselves and their community, The Suburban Collection set forth with their 1 million meal goal.
Making Every Donation Count
The Suburban Collection appointed “Team Champions” who were responsible for encouraging and motivating engagement with the campaign. These individuals were given physical tools and sales collateral to help promote the campaign at their local dealerships.
“I created a ‘Team Champion Playbook,’ and it outlined everything our teams could possibly need to know about what the campaign was, when it was running, information about Gleaners and why we have chosen them as a partner,” said Wilhelm. “Then, I provided our teams with fundraising tools, so this was everything from a sample letter that they could send out, flyers, and a phone script for cashiers.”
The company then worked out an incentive plan to further encourage involvement from employees. Everything from Jeans Days to parking spot raffles were considered and implemented to help further the campaign’s success. Additionally, individual teams were given latitude to create their own location-specific fundraisers. Dealerships hosted socially distanced golf outings, created raffle baskets in a wide variety of themes, sold candy bars and other prepackaged snacks in the stores, and worked with restaurants to cater dealership luncheons for employees, with all proceeds going to Gleaners.
Shifting to a Virtual Food Drive Model
Before the pandemic, local organizations took great pride in hosting food drives for Gleaners, providing canned goods and shelf-stable items for their hungry neighbors. It was a rewarding experience that allowed them to engage with members of their community. However, given the current realities associated with the pandemic, The Suburban Collection knew that fundraising via in-person events was not only impractical, but unsafe.
At the same time, storage and capacity issues arose due to the pandemic, making food drives difficult to plan. In the span of a few short months, Gleaners had nearly doubled its distributions in response to the growing need for emergency food resources. With the rapid increase in community need for food assistance during the time of the “Drive Away Hunger” campaign, Gleaners was already pushing warehouses to the brink. Filling these already packed spaces with miscellaneous food was not feasible, nor did the organization have the resources to facilitate food sorting and proper distribution, given their curbed level of volunteer activities. So, what could The Suburban Collection do to best help Gleaners serve their neighbors in need? The solution: Virtual Food Drives.
A Virtual Food Drive (or VFD) provides something akin to an ecommerce shopping experience. Donors can make a financial contribution online or they can “shop with Gleaners.” Through the shopping portal, donors can select food items that form their donation amount. Every dollar donated provides three meals. The Gleaners team also provided for the setup of “teams” within the platform to track fundraising at each dealership location, all through a centralized campaign donation page.
“To know that everything that you bring in is going to people you interact with every day was the strongest motivator. So much of this campaign’s success came from people wanting to help and being happy to have an opportunity to do it through their job,” said Wilhelm. “I am really excited for what the next year will look like with everything that we’ve learned this time around.”
Shop & Feed Your Neighbors with a Gleaners Virtual Food Drive!
The Gleaners Virtual Food Drive platform offers an easy and convenient way to “shop” for food items and make a donation without leaving your home. The value of a gift goes further by helping Gleaners purchase items at the most cost-effective price. Ultimately, online donations immediately go to work, providing a variety of wholesome food to those who need it most.
The “Drive Away Hunger” campaign has already ended, but please consider making a gift to one of Gleaners’ current Virtual Food Drive campaigns!