A patchwork quilt of Baltimore County employees, volunteers and the Maryland National Guard is trying to keep up with the growing demand for food, as the effects from the COVID-19 pandemic wash over the community.
Baltimore County alone has handed out approximately 925,000 meals since Mid-March, according to a county spokesman.
Amy, who didn’t want to give her last name, lives in Parkville with her six-year-old daughter. She lost her health care job last month.
“This was the first time that I’ve ever needed help in my life,” she said as she sat in a long line of cars at Parkville High School on a recent Friday. People were there for bags and boxes of food from the Student Support Network, a nonprofit organization.
“Just seeing how many people are using this program right now, and how many people need this right now, it was just so emotional,” Amy said.
Nonprofits like the Student Support Network are helping to supplement the dozens of county-run meal distribution sites.
There are 30 locations the county offers on Saturdays, with help from the Maryland National Guard.
Elisabeth Sachs is Baltimore County’s government reform and strategic initiatives director. She said they have been running out of food.
“Each week, demand has outpaced the supply,” Sachs said.
Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, president of the Student Support Network, said that adds to the stress people feel going from one place to another, not knowing whether they’ll leave empty-handed.
“The only way we’re going to address this problem is to have a major intervention at all levels of government to be able to deliver food to the people who are in need at this level now and will be for months,” Taylor Mitchell said.
The county also is distributing food at seven PAL Centers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Add to that more than 60 meal sites Baltimore County Public Schools are running for children Monday through Thursday. Karen Levenstein, the food and nutrition services director for BCPS, said so far, so good on their food supply. Offering thousands of meals each day is something the school system is geared up for.
Levenstein said they have a warehouse in Cockeysville where they have stuff like peaches, pears and applesauce in 4-ounce cups.
“We have tons of that in our warehouse,” Levenstein said. “We have over 100,000 portions of that.”
They also have been raiding the food supplies in schools across the county.
Levenstein said the cafeteria workers who are handing out food never expected to find themselves on the front lines of a pandemic.
“Lunch lady heroes for sure,” she said.
The school system stopped offering Friday distribution to give the employees some relief. They double up the meals on Thursdays.
More than 50,000 people have filed for unemployment in Baltimore County since the beginning of the pandemic. The state is struggling to keep up with the crush of jobless claims, and that’s delaying people getting their payments.
Sachs said people are suffering and the county is trying to meet the need. She said produce is plentiful, probably because wholesalers aren’t selling as much to restaurants. It’s the nonperishables like canned goods that are harder to come by.
“We have been partnering with the Maryland Food Bank primarily to get the nonperishable groceries,” Sachs said.
But the food bank relies heavily on food donations from grocery and big box stores. A lot of that has dried up, according to Maryland Food Bank President and CEO Carmen Del Guercio. Appearing on WYPR’s “Midday,” he said that means they need to buy more food.
“We’ve calculated it’s going to take us $12 million to get through the first 90 days of this crisis,” Del Guercio said.
And no one knows when this crisis will be over.
This link will take you to a list of Baltimore County’s food distribution sites.