What makes Forgotten Harvest recipient Rich Fisher’s story so frightening is that it could happen to anyone.
Two years ago, Fisher went to bed with a headache and woke up later in the throes of a major stroke. He wasn’t expected to survive, but somehow pulled through. While still in the hospital, his company went out of business and Fisher, who has five children with his wife, April, was left with no job or insurance. Today, he can barely walk and has completely lost the use of his left arm.
As if that weren’t enough, in September the Fisher family’s house in Chesterfield burnt down, destroying everything they owned. After a few months living in a motel, the family has just rented a house in Eastpointe.
“Sometimes it feels like we have a black cloud over us,” said Fisher, 46, who learned after the stroke that he has diabetes. “We are trying to think of a new beginning, but with the holidays coming it’s kind of hard.”
Not only does Forgotten Harvest supply the food that keeps the family fed week after week, its nutritious components have helped improve Fisher’s diabetes to the point that he no longer needs insulin.
“Forgotten Harvest,” he said, “has been a savior.”
Just One of Many
The Fisher family is among metro Detroit’s approximately 589,000 people who face food insecurity. Rather than see perfectly good surplus food wasted, Forgotten Harvest “rescues” it from more than 800 food businesses and delivers it to more than 250 emergency food providers, food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens and faith-based organizations. Last year, that added up to an astounding 45.8 million pounds of nutritious food that went to the dinner table rather than the landfill, all provided to food insecure families absolutely free of charge.
Rich Fisher picks up his food at Liberty Family Outreach in Warren, an organization whose many services include a mobile food pantry each week.
“We get 13,000 to 30,000 pounds of food from Forgotten Harvest every week. Without them, we could not do a program like this to feed the community,” said the organization’s Katie Miller. “We are giving away $7,000 to $10,000 worth of food at a minimum, and we could never afford that. Forgotten Harvest is essential to bridging that food gap. One of the things we can always count on from them is fresh produce. This week we had cabbage, apples, potatoes and yellow peppers. There is always something that has some substance.”
Every Monday, 30 or so volunteers gather at Liberty’s parking lot to assemble food packages for 300 to 350 families.
“We are bursting at the seams and we don’t have the ability to take on any more, and then I have people saying, ‘Please help, I have four kids.’ Can you imagine having to beg for food?” Miller said. “A lot of times this means the difference if kids have a breakfast or not – and that is not okay.”
Over at God’s Helping Hands in Rochester, some 250 families come on Thursdays to get food rescued from Forgotten Harvest.
“These are families who are struggling to make ends meet, and the food we provide allows them to be able to focus on other bills or items they need,” said Lisa Cain, who founded the organization with her husband, Brian. “Many are working multiple jobs that are low-paying. We hear a lot about single mothers trying to restart their lives, or someone with medical issues. They are very grateful; some get so choked up they can’t say anything.”
“We love working with Forgotten Harvest,” Cain added. “They are very giving and working hard to end food insecurity.”
A recent study from the Food Bank Council of Michigan reports on the need for food assistance throughout the state. The “Self-Sufficiency Standard for Michigan 2017” shows that a significant portion of the population falls into an income gap between the federal definition of poverty and a necessary minimum income to meet basic needs. Many of these people are food insecure or need emergency food at times throughout the year.
While the federal poverty level for a family of four is $24,600 a year, the Self-Sufficiency Standard reports that household actually requires an annual income of $63,415 in Oakland County, $59,937 in Macomb County, and $59,944 in Wayne County to meet basic needs for two adults and two children without private or public assistance.
In Michigan, 24.9 percent of families (617,140 people) have an income that is less than twice the poverty level (about $50,000 for a family of four), said Donald Grimes, a senior research specialist at the University of Michigan, citing statistics from the American Community Survey for 2016. That breaks down to 35.4 percent in Wayne County, 21.1 percent in Macomb County, and 14.6 percent in Oakland County, an area many perceive as affluent.
“People are not as aware as they need to be,” said Cain of God’s Helping Hands. “People think, 'It’s not my neighbor or my zip code or anyone my children go to school with.' But it could be the person sitting next to you. We don’t know what is going on behind closed doors.”
Fisher knows that only too well. “The hard part is, people don’t look past what someone looks like. I have had people yell at me for parking in a handicapped spot. Some people are embarrassed to be at the food pantry. I was, too, at one time but not anymore. You don’t really see it until you are one of the people who need to be helped.”
Thanksgiving week was particularly busy at Open Door Ministry in Canton, which runs a Forgotten Harvest-supported drive-through food pantry each Thursday. “Our average for 2017 is 400 families, but the week before Thanksgiving we had 530,” said Steve Darr, who directs the agency with his wife, Jackie.
“A lot of people think that those coming for food assistance are homeless and living on the street, but it really isn’t that way. It could be your next-door neighbor,” he said. “I have noticed from time to time that a new volunteer will say, ‘Wait, they are driving really nice cars, why are they coming for food?’ The answer is, you don’t know their situation. They could have borrowed that car, they could have gotten a ride here, they could have bought it when things were better but all of a sudden, their income went way down. People can rush to judgement.”
Forgotten Harvest delivers rescued food to Open Door Ministry each Monday and Wednesday. “We get a lot of fresh items like meat, fruit and vegetables that we can give our guests,” said Darr, whose agency also offers job training and placement. “We try to work ourselves out of a job, but it won’t happen.”
When Kim Frazier’s daughter, Jordan, was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer at the age of 12, she had to quit her job to care for her full time. She soon realized she needed help putting food on the table for her family.
“I was embarrassed,” said Frazier, 51, who lives in Detroit. “But as I teach my kids, sometimes you have to take these steps, and every stepping stone is an elevation to the next level.”
Frazier laughs as she recalls her early efforts to eat healthier with the fresh vegetables and fruit from Forgotten Harvest, which she picked up at Liberty Family Outreach. “With a lot of things like squash, cauliflower and zucchini, I had no idea how to cook it. I had to google it! But now I have come to like vegetables.”
In fact, Frazier has gotten in the habit of slicing up fresh produce like apples and peppers and leaving them out on the kitchen counter for Jordan and her 12-year-old son, Cameron, to snack on. “The color drives them right to it,” she said. “I put it in their lunches, too.”
After four surgeries and chemotherapy, Jordan is now a cancer-free teenager who excels academically. Her mother has become an entrepreneur. Though she occasionally still picks up some food at Liberty Family Outreach to help tide the family over, Frazier mainly goes there now to volunteer.
“Thanks to them and Forgotten Harvest, I was able to make sure my kids could eat every day,” she said. “Now, I am a single mom making it happen.”
Learn how you can help Forgotten Harvest help others at forgottenharvest.org.
Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.