Food Bank in Wicomico helping those in need

Jennifer Small and Steve Schwalb of the Maryland Food Bank.

Sometimes, the requests are heartbreaking.

There have been fathers on the telephone, desperate, telling a food bank employee, “My wife is sick. We don’t know what we’re going to do. We have no food in the house.”

“It can be depressing, but we have the overwhelming joy of really doing the greater good,” Jennifer Small, managing director of the Maryland Food Bank Eastern Shore, said.

The need is more extensive than many realize.

“On the Eastern Shore, one in four kids and one in four seniors is food insecure. That means they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. What we see is about 80 percent of people fall through the gaps. They don’t qualify for federal assistance,” Small said.

To help, the local food bank, a distribution center that opened 36 years ago and is on Owens Branch Road, provides millions of pounds of goods to those referred by shelters, rehab center and churches. Statewide, 1,250 soup kitchens, pantries, shelters, schools and community-based organizations in 21 counties and Baltimore City are recipients.

Although 4.9 million meals were provided last year, 8.5 million meals were still missed.

Community help comes from programs including the Farm to Food Bank. In 2015, the food bank worked with about 70 farms throughout Maryland to aid those who typically lack fruits and vegetables. In one growing season, more than 4.9 million pounds of crops were harvested from Maryland farms, totaling more than 50 percent of the produce dispensed.

“There are a lot of ways we get food to the agencies – soup kitchens, food pantries and our Pantry on the Go trucks,” said Steve Schwalb, director of Eastern Shore relations, explaining the mobile pantries go into communities that have “little access to other forms of hunger relief.”

Operated by one part-time and 14 full-time employees, the local food bank has a $1 million annual budget. About 15 percent of that is provided by donations, corporations and individuals, so the remaining 85 percent must come from fundraisers and programs.

Among them is the Save a Seat Campaign, which invites customers at participating restaurants to sit at a designated table, enjoy a meal and donate $10, enough to provide 30 meals. Some restaurants have Food Bank Night.

Pack to Give Back is the cornerstone of the holiday distribution and involves businesses whose employees pack boxes big enough to feed families of four.

The Lawyers’ Campaign Against Hunger, started in 1988 by Maryland attorneys, has raised more than $5 million. There are also School Pantry and Supper Club programs. “These community partnerships are important,” Small said.

For the food bank, Wicomico County officials initially granted 1.85 acres. Recently, an additional 1,117.5 square feet of land was provided.

“That will create an appropriate-sized footprint to accommodate our 2,400 square foot expansion. The warehouse will be expanded for us to be able to better handle produce. We are just now looking at contractors. We hope it will be open soon,” Schwalb said.

In an effort to raise awareness, Schwalb has developed the Regional Leadership Council to recruit two or three volunteers from each of the surrounding eight counties to go into their communities and raise awareness of the food bank’s undertakings and needs. Once awareness is raised, “the money will come,” he said.

Anyone interested in participating can call him at 410-430-6376 or at the food bank, at 410-742-0050.

“The Council is under way. We have had our initial meeting and we will have quarterly meetings. We have to make sure folks are aware. These Council members  will leverage local community influence. It will be a much more focused effort on making folks aware. I know the Shore and I don’t believe it will take that long,” he said.


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