HALETHORPE, Md. — It's 9 a.m. on a Monday and the massive warehouse at the Maryland Food Bank is filled with sounds of volunteers packing boxes, sorting food and stuffing bags with to-go meals.
But over a month ago, there were real concerns about having enough volunteer power at the food bank.
"In mid-March when the schools started closing down and a lot of the corporate partners we typically work with began working remotely, we saw a pretty drastic decrease in the number of corporate groups and volunteers that we typically rely on," said Joanna Warner, the director of communications at the Maryland Food Bank.
"Within 48 hours I believe we were down to very, very few volunteers."
They put out the call for help and the volunteer pool began to fill back up, with many new, first-time volunteers.
Amee Petrides started volunteering about a month ago and helps in the food bank's marketplace where she sorts and packs food that goes to places like food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.
She is the assistant volleyball coach at Johns Hopkins University and since they are doing a virtual season, she said she had more free time in her day.
"I saw on the news ways to help so I looked up the different ways and the Maryland Food Bank was one of them. I figured it was something easy for me to do and easy to get involved," she said.
Isabella Bowker felt a similar pull to help after schools shut down early in mid-March. She is a fourth grade teacher in Baltimore City and says she wanted to do something to make a difference.
"Teachers are doers, we like to have a place to put our energy and I felt like I couldn’t sit around waiting for something to happen," she said.
She volunteers twice a week working in the warehouse packing boxes.
"I’m not helping hypothetical families. I’m helping families at my school and helping families who are members of my community."
The call to action is appreciated by the Maryland Food Bank.
"Volunteers are the back bone of our work. We can’t get our work done without these very dedicated individuals," said Warner.
There are still many longtime volunteers helping out as they can, like John Hejl. He has been volunteering at the food bank since 2011 and took on extra shifts when the coronavirus pandemic hit Maryland. He says he enjoys seeing all of the new faces.
"It’s great to see them come in to be able to help. Unfortunately they’re able to do that because they can’t go to school or work but they are coming in to help wherever they can," he said.
Warner said they are constantly reevaluating and adding volunteer opportunities as the needs change and grow for the people they serve. To learn more about becoming a volunteer with the Maryland Food Bank, click here.