With the COVID-19 outbreak having shut the doors of the state’s public schools, Wayne State University students and scores of other volunteers have partnered with the Gleaners Community Food Bank for a massive food distribution program designed to mitigate hunger in local communities where public school students often rely on reduced and free school lunches.
Part of Gleaners’ monthly School Food Mobile distribution program, volunteers serve healthy food to students and families at schools in low-income communities across Wayne, Livingston, Oakland, Macomb and Monroe counties.
Each site provides as many as 150 families with up to 30 pounds of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grain and other foods.
Volunteers are giving their time and energy even as they try to remain safe from infection during the pandemic.
Jeneen Ali, a third-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science, said she became involved after her advisor, Diane Cress, Ph.D., alerted her to the program. “My doctoral focus is in food insecurity in low-income communities, and I was having a conversation with my advisor about
how kids in schools were getting meals now. Then, she mentioned this effort.”
Paris Berry, a WSU senior majoring in community health, works three days a week in the program, passing out food at sites in areas such as Detroit, Riverview, Waterford and Warren.
“I was not going to sit at home doing nothing while there were so many children and families in need,” said Berry. “Every day, someone, somewhere is going hungry, and every day, someone, somewhere is in need. I may not be able to get to everyone, but I will do what I can for as long as I can.”
Stephanie Hough, who will graduate from Wayne State this summer with a degree in dietetics, said she decided to become part of the food distribution program after she was laid off from her job as a server at a local restaurant.
“I had worked at Gleaners in the past and knew the amazing work they do,” said Hough.
She said has traveled as far as the Ohio border with her mobile site. “Each site has been different from day to day,” she said.
Students said that Gleaners has consistently stressed safety to its volunteers, requiring them to maintain a safe distance from the lines of motorists and pedestrians who show up each week seeking relief.
“They are very strict regarding the ‘six-feet-apart’ rule, as well as maintaining a sanitary environment for volunteers and patrons,” said Berry. “I also do my part to keep myself health and safe.”
Hough said she’s been assigned responsibility for safeguarding her mobile site.
“At this point, it is easy to maintain safety,” she said. “I think everyone is used to wearing gloves and keeping social distance.”
For all the food they’ve given, volunteers said they’ve gotten plenty back in the way of appreciation and support.
Samantha Bremer, a nutrition and food science major in her final semester at Wayne State, said the thankfulness has been buoying.
“We have gotten a lot of gratitude from our site hosts and the community members at our sites,” she said. “We’re constantly being offered blessings — and hand sanitizer. We were given homemade masks at one site.”
To learn more about the Gleaners School Food Mobile program, please call 313-923-3535 ext. 265.