Tracey Coleman's Inspirational Journey | Maryland Food Bank
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Tracey Coleman’s Inspirational Journey

November 22, 2021

“You never know what circumstances can bring you to need the Maryland Food Bank, and if that happens, know that your family will be treated kindly and as if you matter, just like mine was.”

TRACEY COLEMAN

From Steel Mill Closure to School Pantry Opening

For more than a decade, Tracey Coleman has had a unique relationship with the Maryland Food Bank. And while food-insecurity affects everyone’s lives in different ways, it changed Tracey’s forever in 2012.

After more than a century of operations in Baltimore, Bethlehem Steel shuttered the doors at its Sparrows Point mill in June of 2012, cutting off financial resources to more than 2,500 families — including Tracey’s. Soon Tracey and her husband Ralph Williams found out that like too many other Maryland families, they were only one or two missed paychecks away from facing hunger.

For the first time, they were faced with the impossible choices of how to pay bills and still be able to buy enough food to feed themselves.

Tracey Coleman

New Circumstances Change Old Thinking

“I had this preconceived idea that people who went to food pantries were mismanaging money and were responsible for their own food insecurity — until I found myself needing one,” said Coleman. “There I was, a mother of three, with a husband who had worked in the community, wondering ‘now what did I do to get here?’”

But Tracey knew that there were others like her in the community, young families just getting started, military veterans, older adults — so she took matters into her own hands. “I just felt like helping others was something that I wanted to put some time and effort into, so I reached out to partner with the Maryland Food Bank to bring some food into the community,” Coleman explained.

And the relationship that was formed to help hundreds of families get through tough times still operates today in Sparrows Point, now providing food for 2,500 families monthly.

scouts painting pantry doors

An Education about Financial Stability

And while things improved slightly for their family, as Ralph trained for a different job, Tracey’s family was not achieving the financial stability it needed to thrive.

So, in 2015, she made the decision to go back to school to earn a degree in education.

“I grew up in foster care, always wanting to be a teacher, always wanting to help others, and the time was just right to do this,” Coleman said.

While taking college classes, she worked full-time in the private school system, helping students who were diagnosed with conditions that kept them from being in the public school system for safety reasons. After graduating in 2018, she decided to continue her training, eventually earning a master’s degree in educational administration during the pandemic. Coleman’s hard work paid off in early 2021, when a leadership position opened at the Ascension Place School in Baltimore.

“I was really excited to see the position available, which I viewed as an opportunity to help other kids that come from a similar background to mine — living in foster care or a group home — and just don’t have that steady home life environment,” Coleman said.

In one of her first meetings after accepting the position, Coleman recalls hearing from staff that some of the students from families affected by COVID were coming to virtual classes hungry and asking about food resources.

As fate would have it, Coleman was in the right place, at the right time, with the right response to her school community’s plight.

Echoing the work she had done for the Sparrows Point community nearly a decade before, Coleman once again partnered with the Maryland Food Bank to set up a school pantry.

scouts categorizing shelf stable food

The Community Comes Together

In August, Boy Scouts from Troop 235 volunteered to help clean up, organize, and decorate the space Coleman planned for a new school pantry. The Scouts installed shelving, eight freezers, and painted the walls with inspirational art and quotations to make the space welcoming for students and families in need.

Initially, Coleman expects to work with about 150 families to provide both access to nutritious food and nutrition education, including recipes to make sure families will be able to fully use and enjoy the foods they receive. However, she already has her sights set on expanding the program.

When reflecting on the journey that has brought her full circle, Coleman recalls the sense of accomplishment of making it through just one week at a time, and knows many families are experiencing similar feelings as they continue to navigate COVID.

“I think it’s important for people who donate to the Maryland Food Bank to know that they give hope to the families who just need a hand to get through a difficult time and get back to where they’re feeling secure,” said Coleman.

With your continued support, we’ll be here for the next Tracey Coleman who reaches out to the Maryland Food Bank in hopes of ensuring their communities have access to the nutritious foods they need to thrive.

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