Q&A with Hidden Harvest President and CEO Samantha McKenzie

Samantha McKenzie is the President and CEO of Hidden Harvest, a 501c3 non-profit organization that focuses on alleviating hunger and ending food waste in the Great Lakes Bay Region. Hidden Harvest provides systems to rescue and deliver surplus food to people throughout the communities they serve who are in need. Samantha joined us to talk about the work that Hidden Harvest is doing, and how you can help be a part of a larger movement to help others.

Q: Samantha, thank you for speaking with us today. Can you please talk about how you came to be the President and CEO of Hidden Harvest?

A: Hidden Harvest and the Hospital Hospitality Houses of Saginaw have had a long-standing partnership, I gained a lot of respect for Hidden Harvest during my ten years of service at Hospitality House. Hidden Harvest made it possible for Hospitality House to provide daily meals for their guests, with no cost to their annual budget.

Through this connection to Hidden Harvest, I grew extremely fond of the mission of eliminating food waste and getting the food to those that can use it. I had seen the impact each meal provided to the guests at the McNally House and the Emerson House, who so often had been neglecting their own needs while focusing on the care of their patients.

This is the story I shared during the interview process, and afterwards the selection committee chose me to be the President & CEO in 2016!

Q: It sounds like Hidden Harvest is doing very important work. How many locations do you serve, and how far is the reach?

A: Having been at Hidden Harvest for three years now, I love that I still get to help those families at Hospitality House, but the food that we rescue goes so much further into the Great Lakes Bay Region. We are able to make an impact in nearly 170 different non-profit programs. Saginaw County is where our organization was first formed and where our warehouse is located, but we have trucks on the road rescuing and distributing food throughout Bay County and Midland County each week. 

Q: Can you talk about how many pounds of food your organization distributes annually?

A: Last year we rescued and distributed over 2.5 million pounds of food and most of it was fresh produce! This year, we have a goal of 2.6 million pounds.

Q: Those are some phenomenal numbers! What motivates you every day to do this work?

A: I have seen people who are living in their car who only have a small cooler of food to rely on. Or the woman who came to our door who could barely talk because she was weak from hunger. I have also seen the impact that our food has within the organizations that we serve. How the food that we rescue and distribute empowers organizations to fulfill their true missions of advocating for victims of domestic violence, helping to find permanent housing for families who have been on the street, helping people become more self-sufficient, providing a safe and productive after-school program for our youth, and so much more. The food we deliver to these programs makes it possible to save money on food expenses and put their community's donated dollars to use helping those that they serve.

Q: How do you think communities can better serve those in need of food?

A: To better serve those in need of food, the ideal would be to be able to deliver it directly to those in need (cutting out all the logistical problems of having no vehicle to go pick up a food box, physically taking a large box of food on public transportation, having to leave work mid-day to go during open pantry hours, etc.) But until that option is possible, our agencies do a good job of having the emergency food available along with other forms of support in areas where families in need can easily access them along their regular day-to-day routines. All of our partners do this in some way and those in need can access these resources by calling 2-1-1.

Q: The non-profit world can have a heavy effect mentally on those who serve others. What methods do you and/or your employees use to ensure that you can all maintain a work/life balance?

A: I have three small kids, so running around with them as much as possible is truly a great way to spend my time away from Hidden Harvest. I also love getting them involved where possible, like when my son's Cub Scout troop volunteered to help us sort and bag up fresh produce to be distributed at the soup kitchen. Every now and then, I enjoy some time in the spotlight at karaoke either at my Moose Lodge #2519 in Sanford or anywhere that Mary Oke is DJing!

Q: What kind of needs does Hidden Harvest have that individuals, businesses, or organizations could help fulfill?

A: In our regular food rescue efforts, we do not often get non-perishable food donated as it has a long shelf life. However, these items are in the greatest needs for the agencies that we serve. If your workplace, service organization, youth group, church, family, etc. would consider hosting a food drive of the following items (pasta, cereal, oatmeal, peanut butter or canned food (beans, vegetables, soups, fruits or meats) then Hidden Harvest would happily provide boxes for the effort and transport the proceeds to the organization of your choice.

If those looking to help do not have a specific organization in mind, then we can take it to our partners who have the greatest need at that time. Also, there are a few ways individuals can easily support our hunger relief efforts by participating in the "Stamp Out Hunger" Food Drive by placing canned goods at their mailbox on the second Saturday in May for the National Association of Letter Carriers to pick up. And as a non-profit, we rely on the support of the community and always sincerely appreciate participation in our annual fundraiser "Celebrating Good Tastes & All That JAZZ!" taking place on May 8, 2019.


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