HALETHORPE, Md. — If 2020 was the year of pivoting, then 2021 is the year of holding steady.
That is the plan for the Maryland Food Bank.
"We’ve been accustomed now to operating at this heightened level," said Carmen Del Guercio, CEO of the Maryland Food Bank. "We’ve gained some muscle around that, we’ve organized ourselves around that heightened level of demand so to some extent we’ve hit our stride in regard to that."
2020 was a year for the record books in terms of how much food the food bank distributed and how much it spent on buying food.
According to the food bank, it gave out 51 million pounds of food from March to December 2020, compared to 27 million in 2019. It spent $20.7 million on food, compared to $4.7 million in 2019.
The food bank also had to change the way it gave out the food, both in the communities and to its network partners.
Within weeks of the start of the pandemic, the food bank opened a second warehouse to build Back Up Boxes, which hold enough food to feed a family of four for a week. It hired out-of-work hospitality workers to fill the boxes.
The food bank's kitchen, FoodWorks, switched from preparing hot meals to grab-and-go meals that could be easily given out in mass quantities.
Even the Marketplace, which is where organizations come to pick up their orders at the food bank's facility in Halethorpe, is more streamlined so fewer people are inside at once. But it doesn't mean its less busy.
Steve Kahn of Bread of Life Soup Kitchen in Southwest Baltimore says their numbers picked up at the start of the pandemic and haven't gone down much.
"It hasn’t slowed down which has been very wearing on the volunteers and the staff but that’s ok it’s worth it all, it really is," he said.
It's a similar story at Grace AME Church in Catonsville. Their Women's Missionary Outreach has been providing meals to local families and Vivian Watson says the food bank has been a vital resource to keeping their pantry stocked.
"The food bank is at the top of the list as far as helping us out and looking out for the people and they’ve really been gracious to us," she said.
And it looks like the Maryland Food Bank will be working at the same level it did in 2020, said Del Guercio.
"There is no vaccine for food insecurity. Despite the fact that there’s a lot of hope around that vaccine, and we’re all excited about it and hope it comes sooner than later, the reality is the economy will be much slower to respond in terms of people getting back to work and providing for their families," said Del Guercio.
Del Guercio said he predicts they'll need about $28 million to purchase food for its programs and the organizations that rely on them. He's hopeful at some point this year they'll be able to get back to normal and focus on their pre-pandemic goals.
"Near term it’s going to be crisis management response, but I’m hopeful as we proceed through 2021 we’ll be able to shift that focus back toward long term solutions," he said. "To be an organization that not only distributes nutritious food but also find ways to solve food insecurity in our communities."
To make a donation to the Maryland Food Bank, click here.