A strong economy would seemingly portend an easier workload for Gleaners Community Food Bank in Detroit, but the nonprofit organization finds that even as more people are employed, providing nutritious food to those in need is a work in progress.
“As a community, we struggle to provide food for working people who are making $11 an hour,” says Gerry Brisson, president and CEO of Gleaners. “People who make $16 or more an hour largely can handle all of their bills, but below that wage level, there are challenges. Either there’s too little food or something important, like medications, is skipped.”
Rather than focusing solely on food distribution, Brisson and his team are now working more closely with area hospitals, clinics, and schools to offer and promote nutritious meal programs. Healthcare providers are more than willing to help, given the effort will result in fewer visits to emergency rooms — an expensive proposition.
“We all know cutting down on emergency room procedures helps everyone,” Brisson says. “While we’ll always provide food to those in need, our programming has changed. We’re making it clear to people that a nutritious diet will keep them out of hospitals and limit their intake of medications.
“If you say, ‘Here’s some food that will make you feel better,’ that message resonates. If we say the food will improve their outcomes with their medications, that’s even better.”
For schools, Gleaners is working to provide healthier meals for children in need while at the same time teaming with educational leaders to be sure students have not only all of the basics, but also enough time to enjoy a meal. “Our goal is to bring every family in the region to food security, rather than food insecurity,” Brisson says.
To that end, the organization is seeking funders and launching pilot programs that, if successful, can be expanded into full-scale programs. “Our work in hospitals and schools
is being well-received, and we’re expanding those efforts as fast as we can,” he says.