Willie Bullock grimaces through the pain in his shoulder as he loads pallets of food into a moving truck.
The torn rotator cuff has bothered him for a while, Bullock said, but there’s no time to dwell on the injury when there are hundreds of families to feed across Anne Arundel County amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Each week, Bullock and his wife Delores, the co-founders of the Annapolis-based nonprofit Blessed in Tech Ministries, take food from the Anne Arundel County Food Bank to public libraries and other locations throughout Anne Arundel County to distribute through their Mobile Food Pantry. They estimate the food reaches about a thousand people a month.
Their group has grown from computer technology services to a nonprofit focused on homelessness, hunger and other county issues.
“It’s tough, but I still muscle through because it’s all about serving people,” said Bullock, 51. “We’re living in the worst time I’ve ever seen in my whole life,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this, the famine. People are crying out. And so, I will use my last dying breath and strength to serve someone else. That’s who I am.”
The Bullock’s willingness to establish pop-up pantries anywhere in the county make them a valuable asset in the effort to feed families facing food insecurity, said Susan Thomas, executive director of the Anne Arundel County Food Bank.
“They’re willing to actually do a pop-up pantry anywhere in the county that’s needed,” Thomas said, “which is extremely helpful to try to make sure that there are no gaps in the county.”
Last week, the Bullocks and volunteers distributed food to those in need at Broadneck Public Library in Annapolis. This week, they’ll be at Michael E. Busch Annapolis Library on West Street.
The Bullocks first met in Washington, D.C. Delores Bullock worked in the federal government developing online learning content and as a help desk tech, which gave her a deep understanding of computer software. Willie Bullock is a self-taught computer hardware expert who stumbled into the field after watching a video on home computer building. The couple moved to the Hillsmere Shore community in 1998.
“We are blessed in tech,” joked Delores Bullock, also 51. “It’s a perfect little jingle.”
Their technological savvy has presented opportunities to make food delivery safer during the pandemic. The group is working on a phone app that could allow people to register remotely and make it easier for people to seek out resources, Thomas said.
Over the years, homelessness prevention is one of the nonprofit’s most important endeavors, Willie Bullock said. Bullock spent part of his teenage years living on the streets in Washington D.C. Going without food and shelter was common.
“I can personally relate to how it is,” he said, “Not being able to use the bathroom when you want ... [or] to be able to be warm when you want.”
In addition to running the Stanton Center Winter Relief Program, which offers people a place to stay on cold nights, the couple focuses on finding homeless residents permanent housing. Their efforts have led them to work with the Anne Arundel Coalition to End Homelessness and Youth REACH MD, which seeks to address youth homeless statewide.
Delores Bullock has been a fierce advocate for getting an accurate count of homeless youth in Anne Arundel County and the surrounding region, said Carrie Gould-Kabler, Project Director for Youth REACH MD.
Such a count helps organizations reduce stigma, spread awareness about youth homelessness and request additional funding from the state government to address the problem.
“She is just the most selfless volunteer I’ve ever met in my life,” Gould-Kabler said. “To her detriment, the answer is always yes.”
Blessed in Tech workers also deliver meals, medicine and other supplies to seniors and homebound residents and provide educational mentorship and professional development services to Annapolis youth. The nonprofit has been able to fund their work in part from federal Community Development Block Grants directed to them from Annapolis. During the pandemic, they were given $30,000 to pay for coronavirus-related initiatives, Bullock said.
Alderman DaJuan Gay, D-Ward 6, said he always made sure to recommend Blessed in Tech for grant funding when he chaired the Housing and Community Development Committee, which oversees the federal grant program.
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“They’d lay out a good plan as a husband and wife group,” Gay said. “I think the fact that they’re giving back to the city after they’ve been able to establish themselves is exactly what we need, especially in helping our communities.”
The city has also enlisted the nonprofit to help with its Water Bill Relief Program. Blessed in Tech will use $200,000 in federal coronavirus aid to help city homeowners struggling to pay their water bill. The program has already helped pay nearly 100 water bills since the effort got underway last month, Delores Bullock said.
The city recently extended the deadline to apply for the program to Feb. 28.
When they aren’t crisscrossing the county in a food truck, the couple runs Second Chance of Life and Hope Church out of their basement. Willie Bullock is the pastor and Delores, the first lady. The congregation is small — about eight people — but the effort is emblematic of the work they do with their nonprofit.
Just before the pandemic, the couple almost put a down payment on a brick and mortar location for their church but opted not to at the last minute. The decision has allowed them to keep operating the nonprofit full-time and helping Anne Arundel residents.
“We love to encourage people. We love to empower people. We love to give people hope,” Willie Bullock said. “I have overcome a lot of obstacles in my life. And if I could overcome it, I know other people can overcome it.”