Drive Away Hunger campaign hopes to donate 1 million meals

By: Jonathan Shead | C&G Newspapers | Published November 20, 2020

 A Suburban Collection Farmington Hills Nissan employee makes a donation to the Drive Away Hunger campaign.

A Suburban Collection Farmington Hills Nissan employee makes a donation to the Drive Away Hunger campaign.

Photo by Deb Jacques

METRO DETROIT — Food is a basic need, but for some families, it’s become their biggest challenge.

Before the pandemic hit Michigan, 1 in 5 people struggled with hunger. Now, Feeding America, a national association of more than 200 food banks, has predicted food insecurity in the region to increase approximately 5%, Senior Director of Community Giving for Gleaners Community Food Bank Stacy Averill explained.

An increase of that size means an additional 212,000 people need food support, taking the total number of people in need to about 775,000 in Southeast Michigan. The number of children struggling with hunger is projected to rise by nearly 24%, or to nearly every 1 in 4 children in the region.

At Gleaners alone, food distribution has increased by 40% since the pandemic hit.

“Our neighbors need us now. That single stat, one (child) will go hungry, you just can’t let that happen,” Suburban Collection General Manager John Chatzopoulos said. “At some point we had to figure out what we can do to step up and help the community.”

A new campaign, “Drive Away Hunger,” started by Suburban Collection in partnership with Gleaners Oct. 1, aims to do just that. The campaign’s goal is to donate 1 million meals to families supported by Gleaners by the end of 2020.

As of Nov. 12, the campaign has raised $45,000, which equates to roughly 135,000 meals. Each $1 equals three meals Gleaners can provide to individuals.

Those additional meals will be needed too, Averill explained, as Gleaners prepares not only for the annual increase of families in need due to winter weather and the holiday season, but now also because of the impacts families have faced from the pandemic.

“It’s truly amazing the impact that is going to have. A million meals is going to go quite far for being able to support our communities during this time,” she said. “The need has grown and will grow as we hit the winter months, so knowing we have the support of Suburban Collection and their connections to provide a million meals is going to be extremely helpful to ensure that households in our community have access to healthy foods.”

Having access to healthy foods helps more than just the basic need of hunger, Averill added.

“Hunger is an issue that kind of trumps a number of other issues in your life. If you are hungry, it’s going to be hard for you to focus on anything else,” she said. “We believe that getting nutritious food to households is going to enable success in other areas. Not only is it easier to focus on those other things, but the dollars that households might save by not having to purchase those groceries for a week, those dollars can go to other things they may need to take care of. … It helps them get on their feet faster.”

While Suburban Collection may still be working toward their ultimate goal, Chatzopoulos expects to see the total donation amount steadily grow in the coming months, “with a strong final push to hit our goal.” The company doesn’t plan to stop at 1 million meals either.

“We would love to surpass that number,” he said. “When you think of being able to provide a million meals and how many children that will benefit, I think, overall, that’s huge.”

Individuals interested in donating can do so in a number of ways. Food, and cash or check donations can be dropped off at Suburban Collection locations across metro Detroit; people can make a financial contribution online; or shop with Gleaners and pick out food items that will equal a specific dollar amount.

Online donations can be made at http://feed.gcfb.org/driveawayhunger.

“Fixing problems is part of our core DNA. It’s who we are, and hunger is one of the most pressing issues,” Chatzopoulos said. “Aligning with Gleaners to address those problems just makes sense to us. We really hope that consumers feel the same way. It’s relatively easy and inexpensive to support a charity like this, especially local in our neighborhoods.”

As the number of families struggling with food insecurity continues to rise these next couple months, Averill said every dollar counts.

“There are three-quarters of a million people in our service area that are in need of food support. We can’t do this work alone,” she said. “The support of partners like Suburban Collection really helps us to make sure we can continue to do this work now, and well into the future as the need continues to be out there in our community.”