One by one, Wendy Krehbiel fills her car trunk with bags filled with fully-prepared meals from the Olive Garden in Laurel.
This isn't an ordinary carry out order. Thanks to a partnership between Olive Garden and the Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services, the meals will be distributed just down the road to those that may otherwise find the restaurant's fare to be inaccessible.
Each week, the Italian food chain, located near the intersection of Baltimore Avenue and Cherry Lane, donates its surplus food to LARS, an organization that helps local residents who are homeless or have low-incomes.
According to Laurel Olive Garden general manager Russell Doctor, in the last 10 years the Laurel Olive Garden has donated more than 21,000 pounds of food to local nonprofit groups.
"It makes a big impact on the community, and it's great," said Doctor. "Our staff knows about it, so they feel proud working at an Olive Garden where we do something. We are a family of local restaurants."
Laurel's Olive Garden began donating food to LARS about six months ago, according to LARS Executive Director Lori Porietti.
Each week, Doctor and his staff cook, package and freeze surplus food and meals to give to LARS, so long as it complies with health code regulations regarding shelf life. LARS volunteers then pick up the food and take it back to their headquarters on Laurel Avenue, where it is kept frozen until it can be distributed.
Doctor said he is proud to know that he and his staff are able to give back to the community.
Krehbiel helped to pick up and hand out donations on a recent Wednesday. It was a large haul, with nearly 20 pounds of food.
"We got three bags of food, so eight meals — yummy, delicious Olive Garden meals — and two big bags of sauce, like an alfredo sauce, and then five bottles of some kind of a syrup," she said.
Though LARS receives donations from other companies around town, Porietti says food is always needed.
"During the summer … the food really starts to dwindle. It seems to be our busiest time because kids are home from school and there's a need for the extra food," she said. "Our shelves are pretty much completely empty."