Feed The City: Forgotten Harvest Tackles Food Insecurity During COVID-19

(Kirk Mayes, Chief executive officer, Forgotten Harvest)

In 2018, an estimated 1 in 9 Americans were food insecure equating to over 37 million Americans including more than 11 million children. In Detroit, 33 percent of households face food insecurity daily but the coronavirus is increasing that number. On March 23, Governor Whitmer signed the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order to combat the spread of COVID-19. The order states that only essential businesses—businesses that are necessary to sustain or protect life are allowed to remain open.

With schools closed and people out of work, access to food has become even more of a priority. Forgotten Harvest, under the leadership of chief executive officer Kirk Mayes, is determined to feed those in need.

Born on Detroit’s west side and raised by a mother who emigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica in search of a better life, Mayes heard tales from his mother about what it was like to not have enough food.

“My mother would talk about the struggles she endured in Jamaica and food insecurity was one of them,” said Mayes. And while Mayes’ mother has been in America for all his life she has not forgotten what life was like back home. “My mother to this day still buys canned foods and puts them in barrels and sends them to her family in Jamaica because once someone feels the depth of food insecurity, I don’t think you can shake it,” he continued.

It is important to know that though hunger and food insecurity are closely related, they are not the same. Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level.

Food insecurity is a complex problem. When a family doesn’t have the resources to meet their basic needs their risk for food insecurity increases. Though food insecurity is closely related to poverty, not all people living below the poverty line experience food insecurity and people living above the poverty line can experience food insecurity.

“This is a problem that can affect anyone,” says Mayes. “There is no single face of food insecurity; it exists in every community in America and it begins to really show during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Mayes wants people to know that Forgotten Harvest is still here to support those in need during this unprecedented time. But it hasn’t been business as usual for the almost 30-year-old nonprofit. Like a lot of other companies and organizations Forgotten Harvest has had to adjust the way they do business during COVID-19.

“Many of our staff and volunteers are older adults and a lot of them have had to stay home as older adults are at higher risk for severe illness,” Mayes said. “Not doing our job is not an option so we had to find a new way to service the community.”

Forgotten Harvest decided to pivot and create a supersite model where they work with community partners in 15 locations throughout the Metro Detroit area to set up a mobile pantry. The Forgotten Harvest trucks set up at the 15 pop-up sites and they distribute pre-packaged food boxes. The boxes are put right into the trunk to ensure as little contact as possible. The sites may change so citizens are encouraged to check the website daily to confirm location prior to planned pick up.

“We are here and we will provide nutritious food for anyone who needs it,” Mayes said. “Our mission won’t change and we know these are challenging times, but I ask if you are in good health and would like to help distribute, please look on our website for volunteer opportunities. We are also accepting food and monetary donations to provide more food for more families, personal protection equipment and gas in the trucks to get to all the service sites.”

Forgotten Harvest will continue to do what they’ve always done—feed the streets and during this time they need your help now more than ever before.

“Anything you can give to help the cause is important and appreciated and
we thank everyone for their love and support,” Mayes said.

To find the Forgotten Harvest mobile pantry pop-up nearest you, or volunteer or make a donation visit www.forgottenharvest.org. Please note site locations are updated daily.





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