For homeless children, holiday breaks from school can be especially difficult because it means they won’t have access to regular meals through school breakfast and lunch programs, says Debbie Hanlon, a family engagement liaison at Reisterstown Elementary.
So school staff members have already distributed Thanksgiving meals, and have now begun collecting food for the lengthy winter break to make sure kids and their families have something to eat, Hanlon said.
On Saturday, Hanlon was among a group of about 250 volunteers who quickly assembled meals in the Owings Mills High School cafeteria for students at Reisterstown, as well as kids at six other local schools and for families at three shelters. The volunteer meal-prepping event hosted by the United Church in Owings Mills and the Generosity Feeds organization, assembled 10,000 4-ounce packages of dried black beans, rice and vegetables in just over an hour.
The Rev. Tim Wolf, lead pastor at United Church, which meets at the Owings Mills High auditorium, said his church is always looking for opportunities to volunteer to benefit the local community.
“We want to meet real, practical needs in our county. About 50 percent of children in this county are food-insecure,” he said.
The church collected and helped supply $10,000 for the meals packaged Saturday. Each package of food has two servings, which just need water and a few minutes to prepare.
Erinn Beckner, the vice president of operations at Generosity Feeds, said it teams with churches or other groups, and has hosted 45 events around the county, preparing 500,000 meals this year.
Beckner, who helped start up Generosity Feeds six years ago, said when he was growing up, his family relied on food donated by his church. It wasn’t until he was an adult that he learned his family accepted donations, which he said he hopes to do for other children.
Nationwide, the percentage of food-insecure households fell from 14.9 percent in 2011 to 12.3 percent in 2016, but locally, many children still don’t have enough to eat. In Maryland, 382,726 of the 890,795 students in the state during the last school year qualified for free or reduced-price school meals. In Baltimore County, 53,342, or 47 percent of school district students, got such meals.
Volunteers worked quickly at each lunch table in the school cafeteria, where several used measuring cups to add ingredients to small bags, which were then heat-sealed shut. At some tables, many elementary school-age workers had come with their Scout troops and wore their uniforms, along with rubber gloves and hairnets.
At the end of one table, Greg Bailey, a security specialist for the federal government, carefully pulled back the seams of a recently sealed pack assembled by his team.
As the one at the end of the assembly line, Bailey had to make sure the seal was tight before neatly tucking it into a cardboard box. After 25 bags were packed, the team called out “order up” and the box was quickly carried off to the end of the room by another volunteer.
Bailey, 51, said he’s never worked in food service, but it was a chance to spend time with his daughter, which can be difficult during the workweek. His 10-year-old daughter worked at the other end of the table measuring food.
“It’s a good opportunity to connect with my daughter and my community. We wanted to help people,” he said.
After the boxes were filled, some of the event’s youngest helpers — some as young as 3 — then put stickers on them before employees with the schools and shelters picked them up the same day.
Daniella Drummond, the youth services coordinator at Sarah's Hope in Baltimore, said the food will help feed families at the shelter, where every little bit helps cover the costs.
Drummond said she was impressed to see so many volunteers offer their time, including so many children.
“You see a lot of kids here, and I think that’s awesome, to get them included,” she said.
Wolf, the church leader, said he hopes to continue the events each year, and possibly beat the Generosity Feeds record of packing 10,000 meals in 57 minutes.