How County-Level Partnerships are Making a Difference During COVID-19
In 2020, the Maryland Food Bank has taken a leadership role in feeding hungry Marylanders — people who were struggling to make ends meet prior to the pandemic, as well as those who are reaching out for the first time during COVID-19 — many of whom have been affected economically, are members of communities of color, or are homebound.
While the outpouring of support from individuals and organizations at the start of the pandemic was incredible, the extended, increased need required more resources than even the most generous of private funders could supply.
On March 27, 2020, Congress passed The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, providing $2.2 trillion in economic assistance.
Based on our 40+ year track record of maintaining a comprehensive, statewide food assistance safety net, state and county officials turned to MFB to convert these much-needed dollars into hunger relief for the individuals and families in Maryland hurting the most.
Together with local officials, we worked to maximize the impact of our Partner Network — the community-based organizations best positioned to help at the neighborhood level.
Our efforts in Anne Arundel County, Frederick County, and six counties on the Eastern Shore are just a few examples of more than a dozen statewide partnerships that have emerged during our COVID-19 relief response.
Anne Arundel County
“We have really strong relationships with assistance organizations in Anne Arundel County,” said Yekatit Bezooayehu, MFB’s Regional Program Director, Southern Maryland. “Once they identified the hot spots, and high need areas of their county, we were able to provide increased quantities of food to our neighbors in need through Back Up Boxes, Pantry on the Go Events, and mobile food distributions.”
MFB worked with Arundel Community Development Services Inc., and the Partnership for Children and Youth to pinpoint the areas that were struggling most, as well as the Network Partners that could provide the most relief in their communities — St. Marks Church in the Hanover/Ft. Meade area, Franklin United Methodist Church in Davidsonville, and the Brooklyn Community UMC.
In total, these partnerships provided relief to nearly 20,000 hungry Marylanders in Anne Arundel County through 66 Pantry on the Go Events (43 percent more than last year), and a steady supply of Back Up Boxes.
“Working with the Maryland Food Bank has been great. Things are not letting up, so knowing we can count on them for Back Up Boxes, produce, and healthy, shelf-stable groceries makes all the difference. This relationship has given us the ability to respond the need strategically, across the four quadrants of Anne Arundel County,” said Erin Shearman, Director, Policy & Development at Arundel Community Development Services.
In Western Maryland, where geography and a lack of economic opportunity are existing barriers, the federal Commodities Food Assistance Program (CFAP), also known as the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, had been a welcome sight for various populations affected by COVID-19, including the newly unemployed, seniors (and other high-risk populations), and homebound residents. With that program winding down in December, the food bank stepped in with “MFB Produce Boxes” to ensure families across Frederick County continued to have access to nutritious food.
“Although we may be a bit spread out in Western Maryland, this area has a small-town feel. It was really nice to see longtime partners like Emmanuel Trinity Lutheran, Frederick Rescue Mission, and St. Peter’s Food Pantry, step up during these challenging times,” said Frank Ducey, MFB Regional Program Director, Western Maryland.
Additionally, the Frederick County Senior Services Division was able to provide MFB invaluable assistance in targeting the areas where senior hunger was most prevalent.
“The produce boxes have been a tremendous help for Frederick County seniors. Along with the bag of shelf stable groceries, this program has made it possible for seniors to eat nutritiously as they deal with many challenges during the pandemic,” said Kitty Devilbiss, Director, Home & Community Services, Frederick County Senior Services Division.
In addition to the additional food supplied to local Network Partners, these partnerships helped distribute nearly 2,500 Back Up Boxes monthly to hungry Marylanders in Frederick County.
Eastern Shore (Caroline, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Somerset, Talbot, and Wicomico Counties)
“I am so thankful for the incredible partnerships formed during my decade of fighting hunger on the Eastern Shore,” said Jennifer Small, MFB’s Senior Regional Program Director, Eastern Shore and TEFAP. “Pre-pandemic, people were struggling, but now that COVID has taken away people’s jobs, their health, and unfortunately, the ability to both manage their expenses and feed their families, it’s humbling to be able to work together at the county level to provide some relief.”
In addition to the economic and geographic challenges that hungry Marylanders on the Eastern Shore face, many of the traditional Pantry on the Go distributions in this region, especially Talbot County, were staffed by seniors. When the pandemic hit, these events were all canceled.
As part of the Talbot County Hunger Coalition/Family Network, however, MFB’s Salisbury facility was able to pivot and help coordinate “mini food hubs” that provide food to local organizations beyond its five Network Partners in the county, expanding the number of opportunities for residents to access much-needed food.
“We’re grateful for the partnership of the Maryland Food Bank. Being able to rely on Jennifer (Small) and Flo (Vickers) made me feel very comfortable at a very chaotic time. They are incredible and intuitive to the needs of Talbot County residents.”
In Caroline County, Back Up Boxes, additional food to local Network Partners, increased Pantry on the Go events, and holiday meals helped alleviate some of the challenges individuals and families were facing.
“Our partnership with the Maryland Food Bank has been amazing. At a time of crisis, they offered a streamlined ordering process — a huge benefit when resources are limited. And the ability to work closely with the Maryland Food Bank to respond to the ever-changing conditions and get relief to the communities that needed it the most, was just a godsend to Caroline County,” said Jamie Beechey, Deputy Director, Caroline County Recreation & Parks.
Including our work in Queen Anne’s, Kent, Somerset, and Wicomico counties, we’ve helped disburse more than $600,000 across the region through Back Up Boxes, increased food to Network Partners, Pantry on the Go events, and holiday meals to have the maximum impact on hungry Eastern Shore residents.
The Maryland Food Bank’s statewide efforts to meet the historic need brought on by COVID-19 required us to set fundraising goals of $12 million for Phase I and $28 million for Phase II. Reaching these goals is only possibly through a combination of public and private dollars.
Our ability to help stem the long-term ripple effects of COVID-19 on Maryland’s families must be supported by continued federal funding. As we continue to do this work, we will share the real stories of hunger in Maryland — the first-timers, seniors, and struggling families — to keep awareness levels high, ensuring that we can be here for all hungry Marylanders, for as long as it takes.
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