Working Alongside our Partners: a Harvest Magazine Feature

An excerpt from the 2022 Annual Report “Gleaners Harvest”

Our experiences from the Great Recession to the Great Lockdown – and the subsequent supply chain and economic challenges – have taught us how to maximize relationships with our partners to strengthen safety nets for our most vulnerable community members, all while having fewer resources to work with.

That adaptability is one of Gleaners’ strengths; however, coordinated collaboration is critical to the emergency food network’s success. Doing more means increasing impact by focusing on better, and doing better means engaging with hundreds of agency and community partners in our service territory.

“USDA is our biggest contributor of donated food, but over the last year and a half, we’ve seen a decrease in both volume and variety of fresh produce,” said Patrick Schulte, Chief Development Officer at Gleaners. “We leveraged our purchasing power to make up for those shortfalls but knew we’d need to strategize with our partners who were facing similar issues.”

In the wake of shared adversity, Gleaners, Forgotten Harvest, and United Way for Southeastern Michigan organized a virtual Town Hall meeting, assembling over 125 members of our partner network to discuss and tackle the challenges ahead. “The biggest takeaway was the reassurance that nobody is in this alone and that even though we can’t solve all the problems, we may be able to get creative and figure out how we can help where the greatest need is,” Schulte said.

Agency partners raised a concern late last fall: their ability to access specific food items during the holidays – a challenge they anticipated to continue for the first few months of 2023.

In response, Gleaners launched the Holiday Special Program for agency partners that helped bridge the emerging gap between elevated community need and shortfalls in government-donated food. Leveraging our food industry relationships, we purchased and made available more affordable frozen meat and shelf-stable food items that our partner agencies needed but were not able to get.

The result was a win-win for Gleaners, our agency partners and all of the neighbors we collectively serve. Agencies got immediate access to food they would not have been able to source otherwise, and Gleaners was able to maximize our purchasing power to provide more variety and volume for requested items.

Gleaners works with agencies and partners in five counties to help meet the need throughout our communities. Of these partners, Lighthouse grew to become our largest distribution partner in Oakland County. Like other organizations, Lighthouse had to navigate the challenges of meeting changing community needs efficiently and effectively toward its mission. In strategic discussions between both organizations, a new, mutually-beneficial opportunity unfolded: an agreement for Lighthouse to use Gleaners’ Pontiac warehouse as its food distribution center.

“Lighthouse expressed a need for a more stable, affordable facility to centralize their operations,” said Gerry Brisson, president and CEO of Gleaners. “We agreed that Gleaners’ Pontiac facility presented a positive arrangement for both of our organizations to have greater community impact and expanded reach.”

In 2021, Gleaners had successfully consolidated its large-volume distribution operations to a new South Campus warehouse in Taylor, Michigan, in addition to maintaining our headquarters in Detroit. This left an opportunity for Lighthouse to enter a no-cost lease of Gleaners’ 22,000-square-foot Pontiac building while assuming operating costs and maintenance. Lighthouse is using the facility to support such programs as its home delivery services, agency pickups, and volunteer efforts.

“By keeping lines of communication open and empowering each other, we’re achieving more together than we ever could alone,” said Brisson.

Food insecurity is complex and requires creative, collaborative solutions. Gleaners empowers families and communities directly through our many programs, but just as importantly, we actively engage and help sustain an entire hunger-relief ecosystem of friends and partners that can affect real change. When our partners succeed, it’s the community that wins.