History of The Gerber Foundation
Established in 1952 as the Gerber Baby Foods Fund by Daniel Gerber, Sr. and Gerber Products Company, the Foundation provided $14,700 in support to various organizations during the first year of operation. While the Gerber name may imply a strict interest in infant nutrition, Dan Gerber felt a commitment to a much broader range of activities. In those early years, grants were provided to such organizations as the American Red Cross, Americas Future, 4-H Clubs, Boys and Girls Clubs, the United Negro College Fund, and the National Fire Protection Association, among others. Small grants were also awarded to various community agencies within communities where Gerber Products Company had a presence. Beginning in 1953, scholarships were provided to a wide variety of institutions across the United States as well as to dependents of Gerber Products Company Associates.
Dan Gerber’s interest in agriculture, education, infant care, and youth programs is evident through the long list of donations made in these early years and throughout the Foundation’s history. These interests are still reflected in the Foundation’s grant-making programs today.
The name of the Foundation was changed to The Gerber Companies Foundation in 1985 to more accurately reflect the status of the company with its many subsidiaries. In 1994, The Foundation became a separately endowed, private foundation when Gerber Products Company merged with Sandoz Ltd. In 1997, the name was changed to The Gerber Foundation.
Although outside the bounds of normal grant-making parameters, the Foundation has responded to the needs of children in several critical emergency situations, including:
- 1995, the University Hospital in Oklahoma City for support and care of the youngest victims of the Oklahoma City bombing
- 2001, Mercy Corps to support children affected by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center after 9/11
- 2005, Mercy Corps and Save the Children to support children’s needs in the Southeast Asia region after an earthquake and tsunami devastated that area
- 2005, a series of gifts were provided to support children’s activities and relief efforts in the U.S. Gulf region as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
- 2010, a children’s hospital and an orphanage in Haiti after a devastating earthquake
- 2014, support for children’s health and relief efforts following typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines
- 2017, a series of grants to hospitals and other agencies affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Michael in Florida and Texas
Of special note is the long-established relationship with DeVos Children’s Hospital in nearby Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1973, the Hospital Chief of Staff of what was then Butterworth Hospital requested a visit with Daniel Gerber. Butterworth Hospital was interested in building the first-ever Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in West Michigan. As the story goes, the Hospital Chief of Staff arrived at the headquarters of Gerber Products Company with pictures of premature babies. He told the board what they were already doing with these small infants and shared his dream of what could be done. By the end of the presentation and in tears, Dan Gerber asked how much money the hospital needed. The rest became history. Dan Gerber turned and asked the Foundation Trustees to provide a gift for that NICU, originally named the Gerber NICU. Although Dan Gerber never lived to see the completed unit, we feel that he would have been very proud of this accomplishment. The Foundation has maintained a special relationship with DeVos Children’s Hospital since then, providing numerous additional gifts in support of their ongoing efforts for children. In 2006, a gift of $5 million was made for the NICU as part of a capital campaign for a new children’s hospital. This new hospital included an expansion of the NICU to over 90 beds.
In 2002, at the 50-year anniversary of the Foundation, and as a means of honoring its founder, The Gerber Foundation created a new scholarship program for local youth. The scholarships, called the Daniel Gerber, Sr. Medallion Scholarships are provided to graduates of the five school districts within Newaygo County. The first scholarships were awarded in 2003, the 50-year anniversary of the Foundation’s first scholarship program.
To celebrate 60 years of giving, in 2012, the Foundation hosted a luncheon for 12 long-standing recipient organizations of the Foundation. Each was surprised with a gift of $14,700 for their commitment to the community and to improving the lives of children. The recipients included the Newaygo Area District Library, Fremont Area District Library, Grant Area District Library, White Cloud Community Library, Hesperia Community Library, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Newaygo County Agricultural Fair, Gerald R Ford Council BSA, TrueNorth Community Services, Newaygo County Prevention of Child Abuse, Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial Hospital, and Newaygo County Regional Educational Service Agency.