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Food Gatherers cancels annual Grillin’ fundraiser amid COVID-19 crisis

A volunteer flips sausages at Grillin' 2019.
A volunteer flips sausages at Grillin' 2019. (Food Gatherers)

ANN ARBOR – Food Gatherers announced Wednesday it is canceling its annual Grillin’ fundraiser to help alleviate hunger in Washtenaw County due to public health restrictions surrounding COVID-19.

It is the first time the outdoor picnic which hosts more than 1,400 attendees has been canceled in its 31 year history.

“While we would normally be preparing to host one of our largest fundraisers of the year, we are facing a reality where it may be months before we can gather in large groups," Food Gatherers President and CEO Eileen Spring said in a statement. “With that in mind, I am sad to share that Grillin’ 2020 is canceled as our community responds to the COVID-19 crisis.”

The event which includes live music, entertainment and food from local businesses and restaurants raises approximately $250,000 annually.

In response, Food Gatherers has launched a matching campaign to meet increased need to feed the community during the health crisis. All donations up to $50,000 will be matched 1:1 by donors Ashley and Jon Oberheide and will support the food rescue organization’s COVID-19 response.

Donations can be made online at foodgatherers.org/covidmatch.

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Over the last two months, Food Gatherer’s partner programs have seen a 30%-300% increase in demand. And in April, Food Gatherers distributed the largest one-month total of food in the community in 31 years, marking a 30% increase from an average month. The increased demand for food also coincides with new challenges to supply chains and food bank operations across the country.

"This crisis has upended our business model,” said Spring in a statement. “Overnight we lost half of our food supply and half of our labor force, which is comprised of volunteers.”

Since the pandemic began, Food Gatherers pivoted to expand its partnerships within the local business community for donations of bulk products and prepared meals. The organization also partnered with Michigan Medicine on a food, PPE and toiletry drive.

Ten National Guard members have been deployed at the food bank’s warehouse since early April to help package emergency food boxes and sort donated food in the absence of regular volunteers.

Anyone who needs food is encouraged to visit foodgatherers.org/needfood in order to find a map of meal programs and food pantries across Washtenaw County.

For updates on Food Gatherers’ COVID-19 response and how to get involved, visit foodgatherers.org/covid19.


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