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As Unemployment Grows, Baltimore County Expands Grocery Give-Away

Rachel Baye


Baltimore County gave away more than 1,000 boxes of groceries this weekend, part of an effort to help residents who are out of work, including the thousands who have filed unemployment claims since mid-March.


By the time volunteers and county staff began handing out the boxes outside the Scotts Branch Police Athletic League Center in Milford Mill at 11 a.m. Saturday, the line of cars wrapped around the block.


At that location, 100 boxes of produce and 113 boxes of nonperishable groceries were piled under open-sided tents to protect them from the light rain.


Gloved workers told drivers to stay in their cars while they put boxes in their trunks or backseats. Some of the drivers wore masks or scarves covering their faces. Many rolled down their windows — just a few inches — to say thank you.


In less than an hour, all of the boxes are gone.


Louis Summerville, of Pikesville, was one of the last people to get a box of groceries. He said he came to get groceries for his parents.


“They’re in the house, and they’re afraid to come out,” he said.


Summerville said he works in a factory at Fuchs North America, which makes spices and seasonings. He said he is still going to work because his job is classified as “essential.” 


“It’s been very stressful ‘cause a lot of customers have been ordering a lot more product, so they’ve been asking more of their employees to stay longer hours,” Summerville said. 


Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski came with his 4-year-old daughter Daria to help pass out the food.


Daria observed that the line of cars looked like a parade


“It’s a parade of cars, yes,” Olszewski said to his daughter. “You see what they’re doing? What’s everybody doing? Giving them boxes of food, so no one goes hungry.”


The county began the grocery distribution effort the previous weekend with eight locations.  

“It was a smaller scale, but we knew the need is great, so we expanded to 11 sites this Saturday,” Olszewski said. “These are non-perishable boxes that for the average family should last a couple of days.”


He said this effort is meant to supplement the meals distributed at schools and PAL centers during the week.


Anyone can show up, no questions asked, he said.


“If there’s a need, we want people to know we’re going to meet it. That’s government’s most basic job, is to say, if you need help, we’re here,” Olszewski said. “Just like we’re trusting people to voluntarily honor some of the social distancing and stay-at-home orders unless they absolutely have to be out, we’re hoping that people who have needs will show up and those who don’t will help out.”


The food was partially donated, and the county bought the rest using donated funds.


This weekend the county gave away twice as much food as last, said Baltimore County Recreation and Parks Director Roslyn Johnson. She said she hopes to continue to expand the program as the need for food assistance grows.


“It’s a godsend to a lot of people,” Johnson said. “Some people who’ve pulled up have been immunocompromised. A lot of people are getting laid off or furloughed, so it’s really a tough time for a lot of our residents.”


The county plans to continue offering grocery pickup between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. every Saturday and grab-and-go meals between 4 and 6 p.m. during the week.


Meanwhile, students age 18 and younger can pick up meals between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday at various schools throughout the county.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom. @RachelBaye
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