Why the Detroit Pistons partnered with Joey Chestnut, Gleaners and Kroger to combat food insecurity in southeast Michigan

Legendary competitive eater Joey Chestnut and Marvin Bagley III led efforts to pack several hundred bags of food to be distributed throughout the Detroit area in early April as part of an effort to fight food insecurity in the community.

Chestnut was in town to watch Bagley and his Detroit Pistons teammates face the Miami Heat, but it was also an opportunity to partner with the Pistons, Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan and Kroger to aid a worthy cause.

“Actually in a lot of eating contests there’s usually a (charitable) initiative built in because competitive eating sometimes gets a bad rap but what we’re really doing is celebrating food,” Chestnut said.

“Everybody really should be able to eat until they’re full.”

Bagley and Chestnut worked together to tie and sort the bags as they loaded canned peaches, bags of hazelnuts and other nutrient-rich foods onto pallets at the Taylor facility.

“In the warehouse right now, you see how much food we have on these shelves, and that's food that we've been able to procure because of partnerships like with Kroger and with the Pistons,” Gleaners director of donor engagement Angela Halverson said. 

 “We really rely on our volunteers on helping us get it all together, pack it up and get it out in the community.”  

For Bagley, it was his first time at the Taylor facility packing and sorting foods that would later be distributed throughout the five southeastern Michigan counties Gleaners serves.  

“We can get caught up in our lives, especially with our schedules being how they are, you kind of lose track of the important things,” Bagley said. “Stuff like this is definitely more important than me being able to block a shot or dunk a ball. It makes you realize that there’s a lot more in the world that you can be grateful for and to be in this moment and present, it is definitely a good feeling.”  

The Pistons have a history of fighting food insecurity. The franchise has made donations to nonprofits Forgotten Harvest and Zaman International in the past. Throughout this season, the Pistons and Kroger have partnered on the Points for Pounds initiative. For every point the Pistons score at home, one pound of food is donated by Kroger to Gleaners. Kroger also donated $10,000 as part of the initiative.

Chestnut is a 15-time Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest Champion and is currently ranked the No. 1 competitive eater. He holds more than 50 eating world records. As a part of his visit to watch the Pistons vs. the Heat, Chestnut participated in a Detroit coney eating contest against two fans for Forgotten Harvest. He ate seven coneys in one minute with the two fans eating four. The effort raised $11,000, and after a donation from Lineage Logistics, the event raised $25,000 for Forgotten Harvest.

“We want people to know that we are here and anybody that's helping us raise awareness for the fact that people are hungry,” Halverson said. “People are still feeling the tail end effects of the pandemic and inflation. We're very grateful for anybody that lends a spotlight to our cause and to our mission.”