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‘People are going to be hungry for a long time’: Maryland food drives seeing spike in demand amid coronavirus job losses

Student Support Network has been holding a weekly food distribution at Parkville High School during the coronavirus pandemic.

A long line of cars began to form around 9:30 a.m. Friday, an hour and a half before the food drive at Parkville High School was set to open. Soon it snaked beyond the parking lot, onto Putty Hill Avenue.

One by one, drivers pulled up to the curb and popped open their trunks, where volunteers placed bags of non-perishable food, toiletries, sanitary products and other essentials offered by the Student Support Network, state Del. Cathi Forbes and other volunteers.

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In its Friday food drives at Parkville and Owings Mills high schools in the past six weeks, the Student Support Network has given out tens of thousands of meals to anyone who needs one, said Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, the group’s president and founder.

“We’re hoping as donations increase, we’ll be able to open more sites this summer,” she said. “People are going to be hungry for a long time.”

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The food drive, which operates 11 a.m.-1 p.m. each Friday, is one of a growing number of efforts aimed at feeding the hundreds of thousands of Marylanders who are now unemployed or have seen their hours cut due to the global pandemic.

Demand at food drives around the state has doubled over the past month, according to the Maryland Food Bank, which said it distributed 2.2 million pounds of food during the first two weeks of April.

The surge in need — combined with a 90% drop in food donations — has forced the Food Bank to purchase $3.6 million of food in the past 30 days, compared with $220,000 in a typical month.

The Student Support Network, which started in 2017 at Loch Raven High School, normally stocks school food pantries where low-income students at 10 Baltimore County schools can discreetly pick up food, toiletries and other necessities. But those closed with the schools.

About 51,000 Baltimore County students — roughly 44% — already qualify for assistance, “i.e., were in poverty before the pandemic,” Taylor-Mitchell said.

“The need is much greater now,” she said. “Once they figure out we’re here every Friday, [the line] will be like that all the time.”

In previous weeks, the Parkville food drive received donations from the Maryland Food Bank, including a 9,600-pound delivery last week. But the state’s top nonprofit hunger-relief organization is stretched thin, and the Parkville volunteers were worried they would run out this week.

So Forbes, a Towson Democrat, put out a request for canned goods on her Facebook page. Just over 24 hours later, her porch was overflowing with about 3,000 donated cans of soup, vegetables and other non-perishables dropped off by neighbors and constituents from across her district, she said.

“The most important thing we can do is to feed people,” Forbes said. “If people aren’t sick and haven’t lost their jobs, they want to help in any way they can.”

Charvae Moore has been calling the state unemployment line every day for weeks withoute luck reaching a person who can help her.

The 21-year-old, who worked at a now-closed Dave & Busters, picked up food Friday at Parkville High for herself and her parents, brother, godsister and godsister’s daughter, who all live together in Pine Grove.

“The only thing keeping me sane is my faith and realizing that nothing lasts forever,” Moore said.

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A line of cars backs up on Putty Hill Avenue waiting to get into the Student Support Network food distribution at Parkville High School on Friday.
A line of cars backs up on Putty Hill Avenue waiting to get into the Student Support Network food distribution at Parkville High School on Friday.(Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

The food giveaways are critical for the many families going without paychecks who have children to feed, she said.

“There’s a need for it,” Moore said. “If they stopped it, a lot of people would be struggling a lot more.”

Edward Keefer, 38, a landscaper who lives in Park Heights, said the food drives are many people’s only way to get a meal as they wait for unemployment checks to arrive.

“It means a lot,” he said. “A lot of people can’t afford nothing right now. All they’ve got is hope, that somebody helps them.”

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