By Allison Follbaum

Early Jan. 17, students and faculty gathered in Detroit to volunteer at Gleaner’s Food Bank.  This trip helped jumpstart Madonna University’s MLK Week of Service and Remembrance, which took place Jan. 17- 21.

Inside the warehouse, Karen Rogensues, volunteer coordinator at Gleaner’s, sat the group down on bleachers and explained about the mission of the food bank.  “Gleaner’s can feed a person for a dollar a day,” said Rogensues.  She said 94 cents of every dollar goes to food or food programs associated with Gleaner’s. 

As part of an orientation, Rogensues showed the group a short video that laid out some sobering statistics regarding poverty and hunger in Southeastern Michigan.  “Being hungry makes it impossible to learn,” said one of the teachers interviewed in the video. 

After reviewing safety guidelines, Rogensues led the 13 Madonna students and faculty to the assigned task for the day; sorting potatoes donated to the food bank into plastic bags and packing them into large cardboard containers that could hold 150 bags each.

The group split up in two and quickly developed a rhythm.  In the middle of each huge bag of potatoes sat a pile of plastic bags for packing and twist ties for closing up the tops before they were placed into one of the packing containers and were counted.

Among discussion of whether a potato showed characteristics of being rotten or moldy, participants reflected on service.  Some volunteered at Gleaner’s before, but some experienced it for the first time, such as Christa Todd. 

Todd, a nursing student said she has participated in service projects in the past, but never at the food bank although she’s heard of it.  “Service is especially important for nursing students because nursing is service to others,” said Todd. 

“It was surprising to hear the statistics,” said Shannon Dusute, Elementary Education. 

Not all the potatoes were pretty to look at, even if they passed the non-moldy test, and talk turned to waste in our society today.  Rebecca Wiersma, Associate Professor in the Social Work department, said the discarded food from restaurants especially disgusts her.  But then on the flipside, restaurant programs like PaneraCares, foster an attitude of using resources until exhausting the purpose. 

After 450 bags of potatoes were packed and cling-wrapped into the cardboard containers, the Madonna volunteers made quick work of the cleanup and stayed to take a tour of the facilities. 

Dusting off the dirt, students wondered how to encourage friends and family to pitch in some volunteer hours on the weekend.  Chris Benson, Dean of First-Year Experience and Academic Advising, suggested spearheading a trip, or even bringing a date for a few hours of service.  “You’d really get to know someone if you made a service project part of your date,” she said.

Hunger exists in third-world countries, but it also makes itself known right here in Michigan.  “It’s scary to think that’s our home and the people in our backyards are hungry,” said Dusute.

A few days after the trip, all the participants were emailed a letter of thanks from Rogensues, acknowledging the work they did. 

“Through your efforts, 3,600 pounds of food were managed!  Your support makes it possible for us to distribute more than 45 million pounds of food to our hungry neighbors in southeastern Michigan, including the 40 percent of our recipients who are children.”

For those who feel inspired to volunteer, please contact Karen Rogensues at 866-GLEANER (453-2637), ext. 239 or by email at  Groups up to 100 participants can take shifts Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to noon or 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.



Gleaner’s gave opportunity to serve hungry in the community