MFB’s Workforce Development Pilots are Taking Off | Maryland Food Bank
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MFB’s Workforce Development Pilots are Taking Off

February 17, 2023

Eliza Weeks’ background in food studies―examining the working relationship between food systems and the people that operate within it―make her the perfect person to help open pathways out of hunger for more Marylanders by leading our Workforce Development pilot program.

MFB’s Senior Manager of Pilots and Strategic Initiatives, Eliza is a member of MFB’s Strategy Group, helping to both expand food access and address the underlying causes of hunger by connecting neighbors with job training in good paying industries that lead to meaningful careers.

two men and one woman do i.t. work at their monitors

Workforce Development Pilot Program Q&A with Eliza Weeks

Learn more about this exciting pilot that is helping to build pathways out of hunger for more of our neighbors in need.

QUESTION: Why is it important for the Maryland Food Bank to provide more than food to neighbors in need?

Eliza Weeks: There is overwhelming evidence, both anecdotal and research-based, that food and money are deeply connected. If someone doesn’t have a consistent income source, they’re more likely to not be able to afford sufficient food for themselves, and their family. Hunger not only affects someone’s ability to function on an anatomical level, but also on a psychological level with the added stress. And we see helping people achieve financial stability through job training as the most direct way to reduce food-insecurity in Maryland.

Q: What are some of the types of training that people can receive? How did you select those industries?

EW: At the onset of the pilot, we made the conscious decision to focus on trainings that went into industries that were high paying, created meaningful employment, and had room for growth It was important that participants have the opportunity to earn a living wage, not just a survival wage. The Strategy team identified healthcare, technology, and green jobs (like solar) for this initial pilot.

Q: Can you tell us about how these Workforce Development partnerships work?

EW: We’ve partnered with expert programs and organizations that have well-established certification training programs, and we provide the wraparound services to support neighbors during the program. Generally, this means providing a weekly stipend that participant can use to help break down the barriers to success that they face, such as paying bills, affording childcare, or accessing transportation – as well as sending weekly boxes of non-perishable food to participants’ homes.

Q: Why are these wraparound services important to the program?

EW: Knowing that there are so many Marylanders that are forced to make tough choices like between paying bills and buying food (the very challenges that keep people trapped in generational cycles of poverty) we’re providing a support structure that positions people for success by removing one key stressor for them. In addition to the stipend, we engage with MFB’s Community Impact Team, and help connect participants with benefits like SNAP, Medicaid, utility assistance, and more.

Q: Has anything about this Workforce Development pilot surprised you?

EW: Yes! While we know how powerful the support services can be, one of the biggest benefits of the program for a lot of folks is just having that human connection. For our younger participants, like 18-24-year-olds from Baltimore’s opportunity population, this might be a totally new experience, and they need extra guidance to navigate the program. But others have told me that just having someone to talk with, to get feedback and encouragement, makes a profound impact.

Q: What does the future look like for MFB’s Workforce Development program?

EW: As this is truly a pilot program, we are still in the evaluation phase. Along with my colleagues in the Strategy Group, we’ll look closely at how the program is improving outcomes for food-insecure Marylanders, identify areas of improvement, and continue to refine the program so we can open pathways out of hunger for more of our neighbors.

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