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The Anne Arundel County Food Bank has struggled under a leaky roof for years. Now, repairs have been finished just local charities are ramping up food collections for the holidays.

With its future solidified by a new roof and a new lease, the food bank is pushing ahead with its mission — providing for the county’s needy at no cost. Dozens gathered at the food bank’s Crownsville headquarters Monday for a celebration of all who pitched in to save the vital link of hope.

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“When I was out here the last time, I saw the leaks in the roof, I saw the tarps," County Executive Steuart Pittman told the crowd. "It was bad. But what you showed us on the tour was also amazing — not only the food you distributed but the bicycles and the backpacks.”

Pittman said the most recent study of poverty by United Way showed more need for help in the county.

“It showed an increase of one fourth to one-third of county families who are working paycheck to paycheck who potentially might not survive and government shutdown or whatever the economy throws at them.”

That is why so many people — no matter their political persuasion — came to the food bank’s aid.

“Housing insecurity and food insecurity deteriorates the fabric of our society,” said Sen. Ed Reilly, the Crofton Republican co-sponsored a bond bill that paid for the food bank’s new roof.

“This is not a partisan issue. Hunger knows no political party. Homelessness knows no political party. This is citizens helping citizens.”

It was not an easy task.

To be eligible for the bond, the recipient must either own the property or have a long term lease.

At the beginning of the year, the non-profits set up on the grounds of the former Crownsville Hospital Center were worried about losing their leases as the Chesapeake Bayhawks lacrosse team shopped around plans for a new stadium and new ball fields at the hospital grounds.

Pittman signed a letter stating no matter what happened at the Crownsville campus the food bank would remain. Then Del. Heather Bagnall, Reilly, Pittman and others approached the Maryland Department of Health — now headed by former Anne Arundel County Executive Robert Neall. Neall gave the go-ahead for the 15-year lease. The food bank had previously been on a month-to-month lease.

That allowed the bond bill to move forward.

“But they said it was impossible,” said Del. Heather Bagnall, a Democrat from Arnold who sponsored the bond bill in the House of Delegates.

The bond was approved for $165,000, which was not enough to cover the cost. A matching grant from the Deerbrook Charitable Trust came through nearly simultaneously.

The roof was completed a few weeks ago. Now the food bank can continue its work.

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“We were on a month-to-month lease with holes in our roof,” Executive Director Susan Thomas said.

Despite those circumstances, the staff and corps of volunteers persisted. They earned the Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce Non-Profit of the Year for their efforts.

“Last year we distributed $4 million in food and basic necessities,” Thomas said. “We gave away over 2.6 million pounds of food, including 340,000 pounds of fresh produce.”

The food is mostly distributed through over 130 partner organizations, food pantries, kitchens and the like throughout the county.

And they are looking for more.

“We are looking for more partners in south county, Linthicum, Laurel and Brooklyn,” Thomas said.

It’s not only food. Basic necessities like toiletries, furniture, a baby pantry providing diapers and baby food, and military MRI meals to the homeless via homeless shelters and social services outreach.

It also helps the needy with some extras like bicycles and toys. The back of the Crownsville building holds several aisles packed with toys all arranged by age group.

“For the first time, we will be able to distribute toys from here. People with an appointment will be able to come in and pick for themselves,” Thomas said.

The immediate needs are for the holidays. Turkeys are a specific target.

“We have 700 families who need help for the holidays,” Thomas said.

She is working with supporting companies like Wegmans on getting the best price possible so they might help the most families.

The need also stretches past the holidays. After a burst of donations that usually come through between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is a lull, but the need does not stop in the new year. All food bank donations are given away for free to county residents in need.

There are many ways to help. Participate in local food drives, many of which funnel their haul to the Anne Arundel Food Bank.

In Bowie, the local Boy Scouts of America will be collecting food bags Saturday for local distribution.

County schools just finished their annual Harvest for the Hungry drive at the end of last month, those donations are starting to come into the Crownsville warehouse and distribution center.

There are also volunteer efforts. The food bank needs drivers and volunteers to help sort and distribute donations.

Food and financial donations can be made via the food bank website aafoodbank.org.

Other food drives run through the year. Pantries and organizations accept food donations and financial giving. Check out this list to find a location near you: aacounty.org

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