By Ally Lanasa, Staff Writer
(July 30, 2020) As a result of the covid-19 crisis, unemployment and food insecurity rates have risen in Worcester County, just as they have across the country.
In response, meal programs and food drives throughout Worcester County continue to provide nutritional resources for residents.
From March 17 through June 19, the Worcester County Meal Distribution provided 126, 461 meals.
The school system’s Summer Meal Program continues weekly Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. until Aug. 13.
According to Odtis Collins, the coordinator of Food Services at Worcester County Public Schools, about 526 students are served every week.
Since June 19, about 30,781 meals have been distributed.
The summer feeding program is only available for children under the age of 18, who must be present at the time of pickup.
In addition, the public is not permitted inside the six feeding locations in Snow Hill, Pocomoke and Berlin. A staff member will be prepared to bring bagged lunches outside.
Hot and cold meals are rotated throughout the menu for the open meal sites. A typical lunch includes one of the following: roast beef sub, turkey and cheese sandwich, nachos and Tex-Mex food, chicken sandwich, Italian sub or cheeseburger.
“Each main entrée comes with a fruit and/or vegetable and milk,” Collins said.
Collins added that a typical breakfast includes one of the following: muffin, cereal, strudel, breakfast bread or Mini Cinnis (all items are whole grain), juice/fruit and milk.
To reduce waste, daily meal counts are completed at the feeding sites.
Collins added that a second meal may also be offered as closing time approaches if there are leftovers.
Monetary donations can be made to benefit the feeding program.
For more information, contact Collins at 410-632-5015.
When schools closed in the spring, Baked Dessert Café Owner Robin Tomaselli began providing lunch bags.
“My group does continue to provide grocery store gift cards to families in need,” Tomaselli said. “Our group alone estimates that since the end of March, we have provided more than 4,000 lunches along with thousands of dollars in food gift cards to those struggling. We continue to accept donations in the form of Food Lion gift cards and those can be dropped off or mailed to the bakery at 4 C Bay Street.”
Tomaselli predicts such programs will continue to fill a need in the community with the likelihood that schools may not return to in-person instruction this fall.
“It is truly unfortunate, but many children rely on the school system for so much more than education, [including] safety, food [and] socialization,” she said. “Children unable to physically attend school, is in my opinion, one of the saddest consequences of this pandemic.”
Tomaselli works with Hope Palmer, the coordinator for the program at Buckingham Elementary School in Berlin and director of Strategic Projects at Blue Water Development Corp., to provide meals.
Palmer said when they started providing meals in March, she contacted several schools in the region, including Ocean City Elementary School, Berlin Intermediate School, Stephen Decatur Middle School and Showell Elementary School to see if any families were in need of nonperishable food items.
“We provided a bag of nonperishable food items for 150-175 families each week through the month of May,” Palmer said. “This included the help of donations from the community and SonRise Church and the Maryland Food Bank. We picked back up the first week of July after each school reached out to the families to see who wanted to continue the program in the summer months, and we are currently assisting 60 to 75 families each week.”
Palmer added that she has about 10 to 15 volunteers who help deliver food to the families because many do not have access to transportation.
“The team of volunteers bag prep every Tuesday and the food is delivered Thursday each week,” Palmer said. “The food items include breakfast foods as well as food items for lunch and dinners. Peanut butter and jelly, pasta sauce and pasta, mac and cheese, applesauce, juice boxes [and] granola bars.”
Also, bags are prepared for Buckingham Elementary School, so when families pick up hot meals at the school on Buckingham Road in Berlin, they can take additional food items.
Buckingham Presbyterian Church also helped to end food insecurity in Worcester County during the end of the 2019-20 school year by feeding families of Ocean City Elementary School. Each week, the church provided families with bread, sliced cheese, lunch meat, milk and eggs, said Lindsay Ashton, youth group coordinator and events and activities director for the church.
Ashton said the church also supplied the Spirit Kitchen drive-through food pantry with eggs.
“Then, we’ve also taken on the backpack program for Ocean City Elementary once it starts up again, and people can contact the church if they’d like to sponsor a child,” she added.
The backpack program provides meals for students Friday through Sunday.
In addition, the church is collecting supplies for Buckingham Elementary School.
“It doesn’t matter if they return or if they don’t return,” Ashton said. “So far, [the school needs] hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, tissues, disinfectant spray, disposable masks and individual pencil boxes filled with supplies.”
The church also has a community garden and a blessing box set up outside of the property on 20 S. Main Street in Berlin.
The community garden features green beans, zucchini, squash, red peppers, green peppers, squash, basil, thyme, tomatoes, jalapeños and cucumbers.
“The youth group built a vegetable stand … and people can take whatever they need,” Ashton said.
“If you don’t have a garden at your house, and you go the grocery store and there’s no tomatoes, go get a tomato from the garden,” she continued.
As for the blessing box, residents can take what they need or drop off donations of nonperishable foods and everyday necessities, such as
toiletries and school supplies.
“The community can leave things in there any time,” Ashton said. “The youth check on it when they’re there. They have youth group Wednesday nights and then they’re there Sundays. And other people in the church also check on it. [Almost] daily it gets checked on just to make sure things aren’t out of date.”
The blessing box has been successful in the community since it became accessible earlier this year, Ashton said.
“The neighbors that live by the church, they tell us all the time that they just constantly see people up there,” Ashton said.
She added that when Stevenson United Methodist Church has leftovers from its drive-through pantry, the leftovers are donated to restock the blessing box.
For more information, visit Buckingham Presbyterian Church on Facebook or buckinghampcusa.org.
Stevenson United Methodist Church, 123 N. Main Street in Berlin, has been hosting a drive-through food pantry called Spirit Kitchen twice a month since March.
According to a post on the SUMC Spirit Kitchen Facebook page, the pantry served 153 families on July 22 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Head Start Center at 130 Flower Street. The families received various canned goods, new toothbrushes, toilet paper, fresh produce and chicken.
The next Spirit Kitchen is scheduled for Aug. 12 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
It is first come, first serve. Charlotte Powell, the food pantry manager, encourages people to come early to receive groceries.
Drivers are advised to open their trunks but remain in their cars. Spirit Kitchen volunteers will place groceries in the trunks.
For more information about the Spirit Kitchen, visit SUMC Spirit Kitchen on Facebook or contact the firstname.lastname@example.org.
Similarly, SonRise Church, 10026 Main Street in Berlin, has had food ministries for years, said Pastor Daryl McCready.
“We do the backpack food ministry, which provides food and meals for kids in schools that are at risk of not having the resources they need,” McCready said. “So, normally, even pre-covid, we were packing [and] delivering breakfast, lunch and dinner and snacks for the weekend for kids every week.”
SonRise Church also has a food ministry called “Sharing the Harvest,” which is a monthly mobile food pantry.
“When covid hit, obviously, we adapted that to realize that the need was going to be much greater than once a month,” McCready said. “So, we challenged our church people to give so that we could provide enough food to really make an impact on the need in the community. We began doing five days a week, morning and night [with] two-hour distribution. You could come from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and then 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.”
Recently, the demand has decreased, so SonRise Church is returning to two-hour food distributions every month at this point. Anyone in need can also contact the church for donations.
SonRise Church is a member of the Maryland Food Bank, but also works with Mountaire Farms in Delaware, Clemens Food Group in Pennsylvania, and local bakeries and grocery stores for donations.
“The bags were about 25 pounds worth of dry goods, so it had canned vegetables, canned fruit, beans … and then there was some chili sometimes, beans and rice,” McCready said.
He added that pasta, spaghetti sauce, rice and peanut butter were often included, depending on what the Maryland Food Bank had available. Any donations from the community were also packed in the bags.
“Our church has a core value called open-handed living, and we just believe that God blesses us, so that we can be a blessing to others in His name,” McCready said. “So, that’s kind of what drives our church in every aspect. We try to give generously, serve and love people in the name of the Lord.”
For more information, visit SonRise Church – Berlin Campus on Facebook or www.sonrise.cc/.
Worcester County residents can also apply for financial assistance to purchase healthy food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Currently, the Worcester County Department of Human Services office at 299 Commerce Street in Snow Hill is closed to the public due to the pandemic.
To apply for food stamps online, visit https://mydhrbenefits.dhr.state.md.us.
WCPS Summer Meal Program Pick-up Locations:
- Ebenezer United Methodist Church (107 S. Collins St.)
- Snow Hill Elementary School (515 Coulbourne Lane)
- Pocomoke Middle School (800 Eighth St.)
- Windy Gardens (800 Lynn Haven Drive #F1)
- Buckingham Elementary School (100 W. Buckingham Road)
- Bay Terrace Garden Apartments (517 Bay Street)