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With schools closed because of coronavirus, a Pikesville group is keeping backpacks filled with food

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Stu Dettelbach, left, president of Weekend Backpacks, hands a bag of nonperishable food to Alan Taylor, director of operations, at the warehouse where volunteers pack the bags of food to help sustain homeless Baltimore City schoolchildren and their families on weekends. The nonprofit has increased donations to respond to greater food insecurity during the pandemic.  July 5, 2020

Alan Taylor can remember as if it were yesterday the day he cried at work.

It was June 5, and he saw a middle-aged father waiting in line with his two children, ages 7 and 5, and his mother — who pulled a rolling cart to carry their food — since 10 a.m. The doors to the food pantry at Langston Hughes Community Center in Northwest Baltimore opened at noon.


The father, who was in his 40s, later told Taylor he had always had a paying job since he was a teenager. But the coronavirus pandemic had left him out of work with a family to feed.

“There were definitely tears in his eyes,” the Pikesville resident recalled. “If I wasn’t wearing a mask, he would see that there were tears in my eyes. ... It was not his fault that he can’t work.”


Taylor, who is the director of operations for the nonprofit Weekend Backpacks for Homeless Kids, has seen the scenario repeatedly played out since COVID-19 has crippled this country.

There was already a need in the Baltimore area to feed needy children and their families. But the novel virus, which has killed more than 131,000 Americans and has resulted in millions more losing their jobs, has created an even greater need across the country and here in Maryland.

Taylor’s Pikesville-based organization has served 340,000 meals across the Baltimore region since March 16 — an 80% increase from the 20,700 meals per week it distributed before the COVID-19 crisis.

Alan Taylor, director of operations for Weekend Backpacks, began working for the nonprofit as a volunteer driver for deliveries. He became more involved after he met students, their families, and teachers who told him how the food donations improved student attendance and made a real difference in their lives. More than 300 volunteers pack and deliver bags of nonperishable food to help sustain homeless Baltimore City schoolchildren and their families on the weekends. They have increased the donations to respond to greater food insecurity during the pandemic.  July 5, 2020

Taylor, 68, has been a driving force with the organization since he joined it as a driver two years ago.

He hit the ground running. Within two weeks of volunteering, Taylor started suggesting tweaks to the way the organization did things. A couple of weeks later, he was on the organization’s board.

Now he oversees more than 70 volunteers providing food to 30 schools. Before the deadly virus hit, that number was about 16 schools.

Recipients get enough food for three meals a day for three people. Larger families get additional food.

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Volunteers now work in more frequent shifts — four times a week — in groups of no more than eight. Before, volunteers would come in to pack bags once a week.


Those who work with Taylor are quick to sing his praises.

“He effortlessly organizes the packing and delivery weekly,” volunteer Amy Nusbaum said. “We pack over 2,000 bags a week and just going up. He does not stop for a second, or ever takes the credit. He is our hero.”

Sandie Nagel, co-founder of the organization, explained that when schools closed due to COVID-19, her organization filled the gap and helped families in need. Taylor was a major part of that effort.

“The food lines become larger each week as more people are furloughed and their unemployment has not started. This only drives Alan more,” Nagel explained.

Even though this is Taylor’s third career — he was a sales representative in the electrical field until the age of 50 and then worked with youth sports as a soccer referee and coach — he considers this his life’s calling.

“I should have been doing all along — helping families that need it,” he said.