How Paul’s Place is Strengthening the Pigtown Community
Like many other buildings in the city of Baltimore, thousands of people pass by the nondescript red brick structure with green awnings, its signage obscured by the branches of a sprawling tree. But to food-insecure Pigtown residents, Paul’s Place is a bright beacon, offering not only food, but hope in a frustrating and challenging world.
“They are very tremendous people here at Paul’s Place. They hand out meals to people like me who don’t have really anything right now, and that’s a blessing! I tell them how beautiful they are, and how much I appreciate them,” boasted 60-year-old Kenny D. while in line to receive food.
Since 1982, Paul’s Place has been operating under the mission of being “a catalyst and leader for change, improving the quality of life in Southwest Baltimore communities. Paul’s Place provides programs, services, and support that strengthen individuals and families, fostering hope, personal dignity and growth.”
And for the majority of those years, Paul’s Place has been a dedicated Maryland Food Bank Network Partner, distributing healthy food to hungry Marylanders in their neighborhood.
But when COVID-19 emerged last March, their efforts to care for their neighbors in need were disrupted. Tamie Flax, who coordinates the organization’s daytime programs, recalls the early days of the pandemic.
“We did actually shut down for about two months, from mid-March to mid-May, until the Maryland Food Bank was able to help us re-open safely. When we did, we saw a huge uptick in how many people came by, but thankfully the food bank gave us enough food to give out each week,” Tamie explained.
Since their re-opening, Paul’s Place has seen a steady influx of new faces; people temporarily furloughed who need short-term help and those who lost their jobs completely and need more comprehensive support.
“I’m hearing from people that in addition to food, being able to afford diapers for their kids is an issue, but we’ve been able to help most families. In addition to diapers, we do give out formula for infants and children up to age one, and that has really increased lately,” Tamie added.
“Paul’s Place is an incredible organization to our partner network and the community they serve in Baltimore,” said Nekeisia Booyer, vice president of programs for the Maryland Food Bank. “They really get it, that it’s more than just handing out food. Their health and wellness programs, workforce development and other support services really try to address some of the root causes of hunger, the issues that bring individuals to Paul’s Place.”
Families with older children are also finding relief at Paul’s Place. Tynette R., who attended an early November food distribution, shared a little bit about her current situation. “I have grandkids in my home now. Not only do they not get the meals at school like they used to, but I never received the pandemic stimulus money, so feeding everyone puts a huge dent in my pocket. It’s nice to be able to get good things like veggies here, things I can go home and make a meal out of.”
But Paul’s Place doesn’t solely focus on families. Earlier this year, Jarred L. was able to comfortably support himself through a construction job, until COVID-19 demolished his routine. “One day I go to work, and they told us someone had tested positive for COVID, and they let us all go, just like that.” While he searches for a new job, Jarred comes to Paul’s Place for food to stretch his meager budget. “Everybody goes through things, you know, you might as well get some help while you can. I tell everyone at Paul’s Place how much I appreciate them.”
While Paul’s Place has been able to adapt to the realities of COVID-19 and meet the nutritional needs of families and individuals in their community, Tamie knows that the approaching winter weather will present new challenges.
“We are going through our site now, trying to figure out just how we will be able to welcome guests back into our building,” she noted. “We will mark spaces six feet apart on the floor, and have everyone wear masks, but there are so many unknowns about the virus, that we really don’t know what is going to happen. But I know the Maryland Food Bank will be there for us if we need help.”
We Need Your Help
Paul’s Place is one of many statewide Network Partners that have been distributing record amounts of nutritious food to hungry Marylanders during the pandemic. But we know the long-lasting societal effects of the virus are going to continue to wreak havoc on food security in our state. Together, we can ensure that organizations like Paul’s Place have the resources they need to care for the children, seniors, families, and individuals who rely on them for food assistance.