Community Distributions Bring Fresh, Nutritious Food Where It Is Needed Most

by Alexandra Porben | July 8, 2021

Article and Photos by Thomas Canary

On a recent summer afternoon, a dozen volunteers braved 100-degree heat to distribute 250 boxes of food, each representing a week’s worth of meals, to those in need in the community surrounding St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Silver Spring.

Many in our area struggle to have enough food to support themselves and their families. Lost jobs and food shortages as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have only worsened their plight, with 90 percent of respondents to a new Capital Area Food Bank Hunger Report saying their food insecurity is directly related to the pandemic.

In April 2020, Catholic Charities D.C. received funding to begin giving away food via massive drive-thru events and continued that distribution through last fall. Between those 25 large-scale distributions and Catholic Charities’ other food programs, over 1.2 million meals were given out between April and December 2020.

Though widely successful, the structure of these events meant that those without access to a vehicle were unable to receive food assistance.

Since January, our approach has been different – working closely with communities such as apartment complexes and churches like St. Michael the Archangel to make this much-needed food more accessible to those who need it most.

Joe Dempsey, director of special projects, has found that he prefers this way of doing things. “With this new model, we can bring food right where we know it is needed,” he says. “We can drop food off in the community room of an apartment complex or senior assisted living facility, and residents can take the elevator down and pick their food up right there.”

He finds that this direct food assistance is both simpler and more personal, allowing Catholic Charities to connect with a facility’s staff and residents, assess their needs, and find ways to fulfill them on a regular basis.

The work we are doing to alleviate hunger is a bit different than that of other organizations, which store and distribute shelf-stable food. Uniquely, Catholic Charities collects, prepares and gives out valuable commodities. Fruits, vegetables, and other produce are distributed in 10-pound boxes. Frozen proteins such as fish, poultry, sausage and other meats come in three-packs and are handed out in plastic bags. Finally, our KitchenWork program in Hyattsville has been hard at work preparing delicious, precooked meals with enough food to feed a family of four.

Receiving this fresh, nutritious food makes a difference to those being served.

The distribution at St. Michael the Archangel Parish was a hybrid event, with options for walk-up or drive-through collection. Having these resources be as accessible as possible is important for Lisa Taylor, chair of the parish council. “We have about 60 percent of our parishioners who are lower income, so we appreciate the need that they have. We should, as brothers and sisters in Christ, continue to serve and help those who cannot help themselves.”

Members of the parish certainly took this message to heart, giving their time and energy to help in the sharing of food.

Catholic Charities’ distributions are not exclusive to parishioners or community members. Anyone in need can come and receive food. Signs, social media posts and more were used to advertise the St. Michael the Archangel distribution event to the greater Silver Spring area, bringing in community members by car and by foot. A group of construction workers working on the sidewalk across the street even came by after their shift to bring food back to their loved ones, a symbol of the power that food has to bring people together and build unity.

These targeted distributions are funded through the end of the summer thanks in part to the support of the City of Gaithersburg, Seneca Creek Church, Holy Trinity Parish, Brookfield Properties, Montgomery Housing Partners, Amerigroup Insurance and Total Wine & More. Catholic Charities is seeking financial support to keep them going even beyond September, as the pandemic — and related food insecurity — are not going to have an immediate end.

The benefit to donors is a very real and specific impact, Dempsey says. A donation provides an exact number of meals to neighbors who really need them, and the donation will get to work making a difference very quickly.