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Baltimore’s Food Project deserves a second helping | READER COMMENTARY

Michelle Suazo, executive director of The Food Project, which is housed in the former Samuel F. B. Morse Elementary School, is concerned about the halt to services if Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young's proposed closure of the facility is carried out. In addition to fresh food giveaways twice a week, The Food Project provides jobs and training, education, social services and mentoring in the Carroll Ridge community. Seated at the table stocked with fresh soup and rolls is Jerel Wilson, on staff at The Food Project. Nov. 10, 2020.
Michelle Suazo, executive director of The Food Project, which is housed in the former Samuel F. B. Morse Elementary School, is concerned about the halt to services if Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young's proposed closure of the facility is carried out. In addition to fresh food giveaways twice a week, The Food Project provides jobs and training, education, social services and mentoring in the Carroll Ridge community. Seated at the table stocked with fresh soup and rolls is Jerel Wilson, on staff at The Food Project. Nov. 10, 2020. (Amy Davis)

On Feb. 28, I took to my Instagram account to applaud the work that The Food Project was doing, bringing, as I wrote, “culinary skills, job opportunities, sustainable food sources, mentorship, and hope to the youth of southwest Baltimore.” The program should be replicated throughout the city, I wrote.

Needless to say, I was shocked and saddened when I learned of the group’s impending eviction at the end of the year (“Baltimore nonprofit that distributes food loses city-owned space during coronavirus pandemic,” Nov. 13).

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They are based out of an old elementary school building surrounded by row homes many of which are vacant. During the course of my evening there, I was moved to tears at times as I heard the stories of some of the young people and some of the community concerns. One volunteer told me that he and his team went door to door in the area, peeling back the wooden panels on some of the vacant homes to feed people who were staying inside of them. Another young man, a 17-year-old, was supporting his entire family.

I learned about their Seedy Nutty entrepreneurship venture and I watched as they made healthy juices for us all to indulge in.

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But I also saw the discipline that had been imparted in the young people from the many mentors who worked with them. They constantly checked on us to make sure we were OK while we were eating. Some would look at this as overbearing, but I saw a deeper picture. I saw a picture of young people who were so proud of what they had learned and accomplished, they simply did not want to disappoint us. And they certainly did not. They left me wondering what more I could do to help them navigate the world they lived in. I knew at that moment that I would forever talk about The Food Project and do whatever I could to push any resources their way.

The Food Project is located in the 21223 ZIP code, which is one of the most impoverished and violent ZIP codes in the state of Maryland. We know that Baltimore suffers from too many communities with food insecurities and there couldn’t be a more perfect place for a program like this than in the 21223.

In the last several weeks, we have read stories of how more than $700,000 has been added to the City Council president’s office for positions in the midst of this pandemic that has exacerbated the food insecurities of the most vulnerable among us. I hope that the government and this nonprofit can engage in meaningful dialogue to locate funding and ensure a continuity of service to the southwest Baltimore community. This is too important to have a gap in assistance.

T.J. Smith, Baltimore

The writer, a Democrat, is a former Baltimore mayoral candidate.

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