Children missing meals they used to get from free or reduced-cost school food programs will be served by a new summer program offered by Forgotten Harvest and Gleaners Community Food Bank.
When the last dismissal bell sounds in June, as many as 250,000 students in the tri-county area as well as Monroe and Livingston counties go without breakfast and lunch until schools reopen in the fall, according to Gleaners spokesman Gerry Brisson.
"The summer is when we see the need. That's when we need to ramp up our services," added Monica Cheick-Luoma, spokeswoman for Forgotten Harvest, which is based in Oak Park and delivers perishable food to 150 providers in the tri-county area.
Ford Motor Co. is helping the two organizations get more food to hungry families with a donation of three delivery vans and $150,000 that will boost funding to Forgotten Harvest by $100,000 and Gleaners by $50,000.
The vans are on loan for the summer from Suburban Ford of Sterling Heights and Waterford, which partnered with Enterprise Car Rental.
"It's a short-term program but we hope to serve 575,000 meals," said Jim Vella, president of Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services.
The $100,000 donation will allow Forgotten Harvest to provide 425,000 more meal this summer than last summer, Executive Director Susan Goodell said. The contribution will cover the cost of shipping excess corn from Iowa and potatoes from Idaho, she added.
The money also will help maintain and fuel the fleet of 21 refrigerated trucks that go to 191 grocery stores almost every day, in addition to restaurants and catering businesses, to "rescue" nutritious food.
In the last year, Forgotten Harvest picked up 12 million pounds of foods that would have ended up in landfills instead of homes where people are hungry.
"Maybe it's milk that will expire in two days," Cheick-Luoma said. "We pick it up in the morning, take it to a pantry or directly to a neighborhood with our mobile pantry, and it's on the table for dinner."
Gleaners provides pantry supplies and food that can be prepared for shelters and soup kitchens to 420 agencies. For the summer, it will add 27 locations serving children lunch two to five times a week courtesy of the Ford van and cash donations.
The new summer lunch locations include four in Clinton Township, three in Madison Heights, and one each in Hazel Park, New Haven and Oak Park.
"We're trying to get more food to families when they need it," Brisson said.
The need is expected to grow. Currently, an estimated 600,000 people in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties can't afford the minimum daily food requirements. This population could swell to 1.1 million people by 2013 depending on employment trends.
"Hunger is a real byproduct of the economic turmoil we've experienced in southeast Michigan," said Jason Vines, senior advancement director at Forgotten Harvest.
David T. Fischer, chairman and CEO of The Suburban Collection, said he is proud to use the business's resources and relationship with Ford to feed the hungry.
"We hope this initiative inspires others to join us," he said.