Achieving Food Security through Community Collaboration:

What it will take to reduce food insecurity in Detroit and the 5 things we need to reconsider to help us achieve success.

Kirk Mayes
6 min readNov 29, 2022

The food insecurity crisis in Detroit is an ongoing and pressing issue, one that requires creative solutions and collaboration from all of us. For the last eight years, I have been part of the effort to combat food insecurity as CEO of Forgotten Harvest — a food rescue organization.

We are dedicated to capturing available fresh food from businesses that can donate, We match our products with local food pantries so that individuals and families who need support can have access to it six days per week. With a mission to eliminate nutritious food waste and provide for those in need, we have distributed an average of 45 million pounds of food annually to people throughout Metro Detroit.

By proactively addressing food insecurity through innovative initiatives and utilizing resources thoughtfully, we hope that we can create a better future for the food insecure in Detroit. To reach our objective of food security, we need to look beyond traditional ways of addressing food insecurity and instead recognize the importance of giving individuals autonomy over their food choices. We must also consider how environmental changes will affect food availability and affordability for those most vulnerable. By recognizing these factors, we can create effective solutions to keep food on the tables of people facing food insecurity.

This article will explore the challenges that food insecurity poses in Detroit and examine the five things we need to reconsider to achieve food security for all.

How do we define food insecurity?

We start with the problem and we define it simply as: A person or family not knowing where their next meal will come from. It’s anxiety. It’s not hunger, on the contrary, food insecurity is the result of a chronic inability to address hunger which creates stress or anxiety about hunger and the event of eating in general. As a result, someone can experience food insecurity even though they have a meal for the moment or worry about the needs of another like a parent concerned about a hungry child. Fixing food insecurity is less about feeding every vulnerable person 3 meals a day, 7 days a week.

It’s more about asking ourselves how we can create a system of support so that when anyone in Metropolitan Detroit needs food, they know where to go near them that they trust to get it easier. Also, at the end of the day, we can’t fix something that we can’t quantify so we need a reliable and trustworthy method to measure food insecurity with a focus on communication, access and a ready supply of nutritious food for people in need.

Hunger is not just a food problem: Logistics challenges in addressing food insecurity in Detroit

Many distribution partners only offer food during daytime hours when working families can’t conveniently access the services or seniors on fixed incomes who are unable to secure transportation to get to a pantry with limited hours. As a result, a line is formed filled with people hoping that they arrived early enough to get the best that’s available once they get their turn in the queue. If we establish a more efficient schedule for stocking and distributing pantries throughout the region, we can resolve this issue. This would involve determining what types of services are offered by each pantry, such as programs and support for veterans, seniors, the homeless, or the general public. A lesser-known problem with food distribution is the difficulty of knowing where to go and if people qualify for the program. Although there is a list available, it lacks recent updates and does not provide adequate direction. If these logistical considerations were given more coordination, it would greatly reduce obstacles to accessing meals.

What we need to reconsider to Achieve Food Security :

1. Working together to build a food system that works for everyone:

If we want to reduce food insecurity, then we need to build a more efficient food system that is accessible and equitable enough to meet the needs of all Metro Detroiters. This means taking a closer look at how food is produced and distributed, as well as using existing resources more effectively so that people who need it have access to food. However, organizations like Forgotten Harvest and Gleaners Community Food Bank cannot do this alone –we all need to play our part. There must be a coordinated effort to ensure we are deliberate and efficient to create the most reliable distribution system possible. Distribution sites must have the capacity and priority to serve people with dignity at the time the serves the community best. Together, we can build a network that works for the common goal of reducing the worry and anxiety associated with food insecurity.

2. Accessibility of food:

Food needs to be easily available in convenient locations throughout the city, allowing the most vulnerable access without long trips or added expenses (such as transportation). This includes expanding the number of food pantries, creating mobile food markets, and providing meals directly from schools in low-income neighborhoods. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to quickly distribute food through our mobile pantry distribution model. It’s an optimal format to get large amounts of food to people in an efficient way, however, it requires manpower (volunteers) and food to ensure that the lines stay moving. Distribution sites that can operate with retail hours would serve a greater population of people in need and provide the greatest choice to family’s looking to make ends meet.

3. Addressing transportation:

Transportation is a huge issue for food-insecure people in Detroit because it can be difficult to find food pantries that are close by and easy to access. We need to explore ways to increase transportation options so food-insecure people can get where they need to go to access food. Additionally, food pantries and food banks in Metro Detroit must increase their hours of operation so more people have access to food when they need it. Ideas such as mobile market-style food trucks that bring food to the community but still provide choice could greatly improve access to thousands of people annually.

4. Allocating resources:

To effectively address food insecurity, we must allocate resources such as money, food, labor, and other items of need more efficiently. We also need to consider how much food is lost or wasted before it reaches those who need it most due to a lack of refrigeration or storage capacity at distribution sites. Also, most people working at food pantries are volunteers, which limits the amount of time available to expand hours or improve customer service.

5. The impact global warming and water shortages will have on our food supply:

Although we have other issues to worry about, environmental changes will exasperate the rising costs of living that many Americans are already feeling. For example, as the Colorado river levels lower, farmers in California are reducing their crop yields to compensate for reduced water availability. Meanwhile, farmers in the Mississippi Delta are struggling to find reliable transportation for their products because the river’s water levels are so low that cargo vessels have to adjust their loads to prevent bottoming out. Projects like D-town farms and the Detroit People’s Food Co-op provide real and tangible solutions that put the power in people’s hands to be resilient and flexible as we approach an uncertain future. However, without the focused coordination and support of all the institutions in the area with addressing hunger and food insecurity working as one, we all fall short.

Picture credit: Paul Giamou, Irrigation sprinkler watering crops on fertile farmland

Food insecurity in Detroit is an issue that cannot be solved without collaboration. We need to build a food system that works for everyone by increasing food accessibility and allocating resources more efficiently. In addition, we must also consider how climate change and water shortages will affect food production and distribution. By working together with institutions in the area, we can better equip our communities to be anti-fragile during times of tremendous change. With collective action and dedication to this cause, food security for all in Metro Detroit is achievable.



Kirk Mayes

Kirk Mayes ,CEO of KBM Ventures LLC, is a Detroit community and business leader. A tested and proven high impact professional with over 20 years of success.