St. Mark’s Serves Hagerstown’s Food Insecure
On one side of West Washington Street, Hagerstown’s biggest food pantry is tucked away behind a small set of concrete stairs and an unmarked door.
Operated out of the modest basement of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church and staffed by a handful of volunteers, this pantry partners with the Maryland Food Bank and other congregations in the area to provide hungry Marylanders with staple groceries.
“They’re a fantastic group to work with,” said Matthew Thompson, director of the Hagerstown branch of the Maryland Food Bank. “They’ve got such a great operation going on here. They do everything by the book, and they’re so effective.”
Since the Maryland Food Bank’s western branch opened in Hagerstown last year, they’ve channeled more than 83,000 lbs through St. Mark’s, generally meeting at least once a week to provide the pantry with fresh produce.
“St. Mark’s is definitely one of the biggest pantries in Hagerstown,” Thompson explained. “Not by physical size – but by the amount of people they serve.”
St. Mark’s pantry operation stands apart from other charities in the area because of its exceptional ability to draw support from the community. For thirty years, St. Mark’s has offered food services to the community, and its reputation has led other churches and charities to seek collaboration.
“There are other congregations in the area that say: listen, instead of us starting our own pantry, we want to support you. So we’ll get a check from Salem or Otterbein,” explained Reverend Stanley Steele, the senior pastor at St. Mark’s.
Steele explained that between his church congregation of 600 members, other churches in the community and individual donations, they raised between $40,000-50,000 for the pantry each year.
Many church pantries will seek to provide families with toiletries and clothes in addition to food, but, St. Mark’s has opted to focus their operations solely on food service.
“There are other churches that do a better job providing those things,” Steele said. “So we send people there.”
The collaborative nature of the Hagerstown community has led to exceptional efficiency in the case of St. Mark’s pantry. Each month, with the help of the Maryland Food Bank and other partners, the pantry serves about 650 food-insecure Marylanders. And when clients come in search for other household items, they’re pointed to a nearby institution that provides the best options and most streamlined service.
Another unique element of the pantry is its format. While many pantries will prepackage meals for clients, St. Mark’s gives their clients a variety of options to choose from, organizing the pantry almost like a grocery store
“I want it to be very customer friendly,” said Steele. “Client choice is really important. You want them to feel like they have some say in what they’re getting.”
On any given day clients will be able to choose from staple food items such as produce, baking supplies, and granola bars—and even more high-brow food items like sushi, baked goods, and venison.
This broad selection is primarily a result of the Maryland Food Bank’s wide network of food providers and donors, but it’s also supplemented by the generosity of the local community and dedicated individuals.
“During the hunting season, a lot of people in this community go out just with the intentions of donating venison to our pantry,” Steele explained. “A lot of people do want to help.”
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