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State Of Emergency Ends But Food Insecurity Continues

Volunteers with the Student Support Network load food into a car on its last day of curbside distribution. Credit: John Lee

A volunteer program that for 15 months got food to thousands of people in Baltimore County is shutting down.

Both the volunteers and the people they served said it helped them make it through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Daphne Patterson was the first in line for the Student Support Network’s final food distribution June 30 at Parkville High School. She pulled her car up to where volunteer Erin O’Brien was waiting.

“I appreciate you all,” Patterson told O’Brien. “And the families I take it to appreciate you all,” she said.

“Thank you,” O’Brien replied. “We’re going to miss everybody.”

Each week Patterson picked up food for half a dozen families.

“In the snow, the rain, now in the heat, they’ve been consistent and they’ve been a blessing,” Patterson said.

Just before they handed out food for the last time, organizer Yara Cheikh gathered the two dozen or so volunteers into a circle. She went through some special items they had, like bras, dog food and 200 frozen chickens. Then Cheikh talked about how they had come together to help those without enough to eat in the COVID-19 economy.

“I just can’t thank you enough for the last 15 months,” Cheikh told the group. “You got me through the pandemic and I hope we did the same for you.”

Volunteer Peter Dimitriades said the experience has been life changing.

“It has brought me back to really embracing humanity, to being optimistic about showing love and dignity to our neighbors,” Dimitriades said.

Even though the state of emergency has been lifted and the economic effects of the pandemic are easing, the line of cars for the food pickup was still long. It snaked through the school parking lot and spilled out onto Putty Hill Avenue.

Cindy Morfe was in line, waiting her turn to pull up to the volunteers. She’s retired and lives alone in Parkville.

“My social security check just don’t [sic] cut it,” Morfe said. “So, I come here and they graciously help me.”

Morfe said any extra food she gets she gives to a neighbor.

“She either buys food or gets prescriptions. That’s pathetic.”

A couple of cars ahead of Morfe was Grace Claypoole, who lives in Carney. She also is on social security and has ovarian cancer.

“It’s hard to get out and shop and things and this is great because what I get lasts me a good while and I’m really thankful for it,” Claypoole said.

Before the pandemic, The Student Support Network could not have helped Claypoole or Morfe. The small non-profit worked with children and their families in a dozen schools. Once COVID hit and the schools closed, it shifted to the weekly food distribution at three sites for anyone who needed the help. With schools reopening, Cheikh said they are returning to their original mission.

“So hopefully we’ll catch a lot of those families with students,” Cheikh said. “But there are some that are going to get lost and we need to figure that out as a county.”

Sean Naron, press secretary for County Executive Johnny Olszewski, said in a statement that they plan to hire someone to coordinate food resiliency efforts. Naron said the county will continue to support nonprofits and faith-based organizations that are doing the work, like the Islamic Society of Baltimore County, Greater Bethlehem Temple and the Community Assistance Network

On its last day of curbside food distribution, the Student Support Network volunteers handed out a list of other places people could go.

Erin O’Brien and Daphne Patterson finished saying their goodbyes.

Patterson said, “Have a good one, thank you.”

“I’m not going to cry today,” O’Brien said tearfully as Patterson drove away.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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