65 weeks…and counting
By Jim Newell
For 65 weeks – and counting – the volunteers of the Forgotten Harvest mobile food pantry in Orion Township have been serving up supplies to those who need extra help with groceries.
Orion Township Trustee Julia Dalrymple leads the Forgotten Harvest cadre of volunteers each Monday, forming an assembly line to distribute a week’s worth of food to those in need.
And, at the “high number” during the pandemic, they were loading food to help 550-600 families per week.
“Now we’re serving about 300 families per week,” Dalrymple said, noting that she and the other volunteers are glad not because it’s less work, but because lower numbers generally mean more people have recovered from the harshest days of the pandemic.
But there is still a need and the Orion Township volunteers continue to distribute with dignity and kindness each week’s bounty to those in need.
Cars begin lining up in the parking lot near Woodside Bible Church in Canterbury Village off Joslyn Road shortly after 8 a.m. for registration. A volunteer asks the driver of each vehicle how many families they are picking up food for that week – for instance, some people pick up food for those who may be housebound.
A number is written on each car windshield and, as drivers proceed through the food line, volunteers put boxes in the back of their vehicles –drivers do not even have to get out of their cars.
Forgotten Harvest food distribution begins at 9 a.m. and usually takes about an hour or so.
“You just show up in my parking lot,” Dalrymple said. “It’s such an easy process. In the beginning, I think people were like, ‘Oh, it’s going to be complicated, it’s going to be hard.’ And we would tell them: first name, last name, a ZIP code and how many people are in your and how many of them are children and how many are seniors.”
Forgotten Harvest volunteers do not check IDs.
“You could tell me your name’s John Smith and you have four kids and we’re going to feed those people,” Dalrymple said.
In a relatively affluent community like Orion Township, many residents may be surprised to learn how many people face food insecurity.
“It’s unbelievable. And we have a lot of people who pick up for multiple families, up to eight families sometimes. There’s a gentleman who was just picking up for a whole trailer park. It’s amazing what people do in helping others for the ones who don’t have vehicles or can’t get out,” said volunteer Dave Lagerquist, who has been helping out with Forgotten Harvest for about a year now.
“It’s huge. You would not even think of it. Being able to see your neighbors come through the line and know that everyone was hurting and that food is just such a basic thing that people need,” Dalrymple said.
Forgotten Harvest began 30 years ago with the mission of fighting hunger and waste by “rescuing” food from grocery stores, markets, restaurants, caterers and other sources. They take donated food that might otherwise go to waste and distribute it to food providers in the Metro Detroit area.
Forgotten Harvest also has its own farms and supplies many of its own fresh foods, Dalrymple said, noting that Kroger and Meijer donate food and companies donate money to help purchase food.
In Orion Township, Dalrymple takes any leftover food and delivers it to households that could not make the mobile pantry delivery, and then gives surplus food to Oxford-Orion FISH.
“I get messages from people who can’t make it until Monday or need certain things their looking for, so I built a pantry in my house, in my car and in my classroom,” said Dalrymple, who is a business teacher and DECA advisor at Lake Orion High School, “so that if there’s something that I can put together for people, that’s what I do. Otherwise, I’ll grocery shop for people too.”
Dalrymple – and many volunteers echoed her sentiments – got involved with Forgotten Harvest because they saw a basic need that needed to be filled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I got involved because when we all left school because of the pandemic, I needed something to do that I felt would make a difference. Feeding people seems like such a basic idea, that if it’s the one thing that I can make better for you, that’s just something I can do,” she said. “So simple, right?”
“It’s the most rewarding, best way to start my week on Mondays. It’s one of the most rewarding things I do, really,” Lagerquist said. “The people are incredibly thankful for the food and the assistance. It’s just a very, very rewarding thing to do. This whole program is amazing. It’s helped a lot of people.”
“It’s so rewarding: the smiles, the good mornings, the stories that you learn about people from being in the parking lot to working on the line. You learn peoples’ names, you know them, you recognize them when they pull up,” Dalrymple said. “Sometimes everybody just needs a little bit of help.”
Dalrymple said she’s also come across people who relied on Forgotten Harvest’s aid, then offered to help.
“They’ll stop by and say, ‘Okay, how can I volunteer? You’ve helped me for the last 12 weeks and now that I’m back on my feet, how can I return this? We get a lot of those volunteers, too, which makes it even more special.”
“It’s pretty fun. It’s a good group of people,” Lagerquist said. “I would say, please, definitely get involved. You can’t go wrong by doing it, and you’ll be very pleased that you did.
“My volunteers are amazing. They are out there rain, shine, sleet and hail. We’ve seen it all. And even the ones who come for a couple weeks, then take time off and come back a couple weeks later; they always say that it always started their week off on such a good note that they want to come back as much as they can,” Dalrymple said.
Dalrymple would then talk to her students about Forgotten Harvest about the importance of giving back to their community in any w ay that you can. “I would talk to the kids about why I was doing it, about why it’s so important to find something that you’re passionate about and why you should give back.”