A Multifaith Community Fills Stomachs – and the Food Gap – in Detroit
FOOD BANKS BEGAN to be overwhelmed with demand just a few weeks after COVID-19 pandemic mitigation measures began in the United States in March 2020. The economic fallout from stay-at-home orders and business closures hit hard and fast.
“There were people who were one paycheck away from lacking food access before the pandemic,” Wren Hack, director of the Hazon Jewish Lab for Sustainability in Detroit, told Sojourners. “And when COVID hit, they joined the ranks of food insecurity.”
In April 2020, more than 56,000 metro Detroiters said they often did not have enough to eat, according to a U.S. Census Pulse Survey. By early February of this year, about 87,400 said they often had insufficient food.
It is hard to predict when those numbers will improve, Hack said. Food access in Detroit is still a challenge despite businesses reopening over the past year. But Hack, alongside other leaders of several faith groups and nonprofits, have found ways to make food more accessible during volatile times. Their strategy: making sure scraps don’t go to waste—even those that may seem inedible. They are working together to make sure leftovers from local restaurants and unsold produce from big-box grocers reach people in neighborhoods where food is in short supply. These faith leaders’ logic is simple: Why should all that food be wasted when it can be served?
Filling the widening food gap
HACK NEVER INTENDED to work in food rescue. But the unruly pandemic brought food access to the forefront of her work at Hazon. “People lost their jobs, and they were furloughed,” she said. In June 2020, when COVID shutdowns were high, Detroit had a 43 percent unemployment rate, according to a post by the Detroit Metropolitan Area Communities Study at the University of Michigan. Even as of last August, unemployment hovered around 25 percent in the city.
“And at whatever means possible, you have to feed people, right?” Hack said. “You cannot let people go hungry.”
But Hack recognized one person’s or organization’s efforts wouldn’t change the system. Hazon partnered with Metro Food Rescue, a nonprofit founded by Chad Techner, to help with food collection and distribution. Techner, a local funeral director who also has culinary training, shared Hack’s concerns about both hunger and wasted food. “I had approached Hazon just before the pandemic to talk about partnering for rescuing food in the events and catering space,” Techner said. “But then we found more opportunities in food rescue, working together in partnership and mentorship for that first year of COVID.”