At 7 p.m. Wednesday evening, the offices of Food Gatherers at 1 Carrot Way were fairly quiet, with just a handful of people milling around, chatting and checking out the display of old food products. (Anyone remember PDQ drink mix?)
That scene changed dramatically at 7:05, when the first of four chartered buses started dropping off Frito-Lay sales reps, coming for a marathon volunteer effort to pack food boxes for Thanksgiving meals. By 7:25, the volume level had ratcheted up with roughly 200 people crammed in elbow to elbow, ready to get to work.
With clipboards in hand and whistle hung around her neck, Missy Orge, Food Gatherers director of outreach and training, was ready to lead the troops. This was a logistical challenge – the most volunteers they’d ever had at one time – but Orge was clearly prepared.
People were already divided into work crews, based on the color of T-shirt they’d been given: blue, brown, orange, red, yellow, green and purple. (Some of these guys were a little pumped up, huddling up with high fives and shouts of “Green Rocks!” and “Brown Rules!”)
Orge and other Food Gatherers staff led the rainbow-shirted collective back to the warehouse, a cavernous space where pallets of food and drink were stacked on steel racks. They’d already organized work stations: Long tables with an area to put together the cardboard boxes, stacks of food that would go into each box, and pallets at the end where the taped-up completed boxes would be stacked.
Orge gave more instructions on where to put trash and where to recycle cardboard. And finally, she passed out clipboards to the team leaders (in white T-shirts).
So how do a bunch of Frito-Lay employees wind up packing cans of corn and boxes of stuffing late on a Wednesday evening?
The sales reps for Frito-Lay’s mid-America region – which includes Michigan, Ohio and northern Indiana – hold a region-wide meeting twice a year or so. This year, they gathered Nov. 12-13 at the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Marriott at Eagle Crest. Each meeting includes some kind of volunteer component. Amy Ladd, an executive assistant with Frito-Lay, said she simply emailed Ann Arbor’s mayor asking for suggestions, and he referred her to Food Gatherers.
Frito-Lay paid $7,500 to buy the food that was being packed – enough for 1,000 boxes, containing:
- Stuffing mix
- Corn bread mix
- Vegetable soup
- Mixed vegetables
- Macaroni & cheese
- Elbow macaroni
- Apple sauce
- Milk (in shelf-stable packaging)
Food Gatherers also tossed in a four-pack of bottled water from Life Water. During the holiday season, each box, plus a five-pound bag of potatoes – also paid for by Frito-Lay – will be paired with a turkey and given to families in need.
Food Gatherers works with about 150 programs to distribute food. Of those, roughly 100 agencies will benefit from the Frito-Lay-funded food by ordering Thanksgiving Day meals from the nonprofit.
Food Gatherers expects the demand for food will be higher than ever this year. In 2007, the group saw a 50 percent increase in people seeking food aid compared to 2006 – and the economy has worsened since then. If you’d like to contribute or volunteer, more information is available on the Food Gatherers website. Food Gatherers will also be holding its annual Rockin’ for the Hungry outdoor food drive Dec. 3-7 at Busch’s on South Main Street.