Leah Aiello Paley, the newest CEO of the Anne Arundel County Food Bank, wanted to find an opportunity to work in her community since she has been living in Severna Park for six years.
“It was exciting to think about improving the outcomes of my own neighbors and that was the immediate interest in the position,” Paley said. “I was also excited to move the organization to the next level, and they have experienced so much growth from COVID-19. Coming from another nonprofit, we went through a similar process.”
Paley served as the executive director of Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services for the past six years and as deputy director and director of emergency and homeless services four years before that. The nonprofit is dedicated to addressing food and housing insecurity in the greater Laurel area.
“The biggest difference is serving an entire county, being a food bank versus a food pantry, that is serving a specific jurisdiction,” Paley said. “I am learning the landscape of the county, where the need is and where the food deserts are. But the nonprofits are similar in structure and made it an easier transition.”
Paley, who took over the food bank in October, earned a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore with a concentration in management and community organizing, and a specialization in social action and community development. She is also a licensed master social worker.
Only eight weeks into the new role, Paley said she wants to listen and take her time addressing issues the food bank may face. Before taking this position, Paley said she did not know that 1 in 3 children are food insecure, which was a shock to her. She said she is taking her time coming up with long-term goals for the organization, but she does know she wants to strengthen and build more relationships and expand to more areas.
“This is a very wealthy county, but we have 1 in 9 residents experiencing food insecurities. So how do we expand our reach to decrease that number? And those are the questions this organization is asking,” Paley said. “Many more people know the food bank due to the pandemic, but we want more to know about us and have ways to get involved.”
By the beginning of the fiscal year in June, 185% more people have been served through county food pantries than two years over the same period of time, according to Paley. Food output increased from 2.6 million pounds of food two years ago to 5.8 million pounds. With the increase of need, Paley said the food bank needs more space and to enhance the flow process. The food bank also wants to have more fresh produce in the warehouse to give out to residents.
Paley recently went to the county to ask for help in paying for improvements, requesting $200,000 in bond funding to help with the build-out. The food bank expects the total cost of the project to be more than $400,000.
In the next five years, Paley would like to see the food bank expand more in the southern part of the county and provide more access to nutritious food for all.
“We wanted to increase the efficiency of operations [and] to reorganize product flow, the building layout and where our offices are located to decrease the travel time of our products and reduce waste,” Paley said. “We were able to determine some simple fixes.”
More than 6,800 households have signed up to receive holiday food from the nonprofit for Thanksgiving. The food includes a turkey or chicken and many traditional sides. Paley said serving this high number of residents wouldn’t be possible without donations, like Live! Casino & Hotel donating 300 turkeys last week.
Latest Anne Arundel County
“It is really wonderful and it is why I do the work I do, knowing that I am able to make a difference,” Paley added. “To know I am impacting them in the long term and improving health outcomes and self-worth.”