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Nothing is Wasted on Kirk Mayes

Kirk Mayes

Nothing is Wasted on Kirk Mayes

For Mayes, the CEO of Forgotten Harvest, it’s simple: He wants to help.

Kirk Mayes never aspired to be a teacher. But after graduation it was his part-time work as a substitute that firmed up his life’s path. Mayes was so impressed by the teachers and the impact they were having in a community south of Detroit, that he decided to make service front and center in his career.

“I was raised in a household and with a family where service and giving back was always a constant,” Mayes said, “so it was seeded in me early on.”

Soon, he and a few friends started the nonprofit Village Gardeners.

“The idea was to create a villagelike environment in an urban setting to plant seeds of hope and change,” Mayes said.  The group eventually abandoned the project, but Mayes stuck with it and grew the organization. Success led him to his next role as executive director of Brightmoor Alliance, an organiza tion that offers job training, education and housing to one of Detroit’s most-struggling communities.

It didn’t take long for Detroit Mayor Mike Dugan to take notice and ask him to serve as the city’s deputy for economic development.

Today, Mayes is the CEO of Forgotten Harvest. He is the driving force behind its mission to end hunger in metro Detroit.

Forgotten Harvest fights hunger and food insecurity by rescuing surplus food that would otherwise be thrown away. The nonprofit then works with other organizations to distribute it to families in need.  

“Serving people, doing things for the right reason,” Mayes said of what drives him. “We are trying to anticipate the need so somebody doesn’t necessarily have to ask.”  

Mayes said food insecurity is a pervasive, yet underreported situation. Forgotten Harvest, according to Mayes, is more of a food rescue organization than a food bank.  

“No disrespect to the food banking world,” he said, “but we set up our operation to identify where fresh, healthy food is, and then we try to get it straight to the community with our own logistics capability.”  

To do this, Forgotten Harvest finds food from groceries, food manufacturers, agricultural outlets and other sources that was going to be thrown away because it did not meet a manufacturer’s or retailer’s specs. The food is still healthy and fresh. “Then we turn it around and give it to about 250 organizations in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb County for free,” Mayes said.  

Mayes is living up to his goal of making an impact—and his community is better for it. Even as his influence and impact has grown, Mayes still looks at it in the same manner he did when he was a substitute teacher in the early 2000s—as a way to make a difference.  

“Some people look at me and think that I’m a leader,” Mayes said, “but I’m just really trying to help.” 

Hear Kirk Mayes on MSU Today:


Hear Kirk Mayes on Go Green, Go Live!

Episode 1: Bringing Supplies to the Front Lines

Author: Russ White, '82, '01
Contributing Writer(s): Stephanie Motschenbacher, '85, '92

Spartan Profiles — Fall 2020

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