Food banks and caring individuals help to feed families during the pandemic.
Hunger is nothing new in the land of opportunity.
Before the pandemic, millions of Americans lacked reliable access to food. Now, as winter approaches and coronavirus cases shoot upwards, 54 million Americans are food insecure.
In Montgomery County, one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, food distribution services are a lifeline for thousands of families. Without adequate nutrition, students suffer from poor academic performance, lower grades, and deteriorated focus.
Before the pandemic, one in three Montgomery County Public Schools' (MCPS) students relied on Free and Reduced Meal Services (FARMS). During the pandemic, MCPS has been distributing free meals to its students at 74 different locations. Local food banks such as Manna Food Center also play a critical role in feeding the county's families.
Every Friday since mid-March of 2020, Manna's Smart Sacks program has provided families with bags of nutritious food for the weekend. From March to August, Manna distributed over 175,000 of these bags.
Manna anticipates that the need for food will increase as the pandemic worsens and businesses are forced to close, leaving more families without a stable income source.
Elgin Martin, a Development Associate at Manna, is confident that the organization can address the challenges that lie ahead. "We are going to have another weird supply chain situation as the pandemic surges and more businesses are affected. We'll need to purchase more food and seek additional storage space to store the excess food. Those are two of the main challenges, but we have the support," Martin says.
Individual donors funded over half of Manna's budget in Fiscal Year 2020. Montgomery County provided 19 percent. The rest mostly came from corporations and foundation grants.
Manna and other food banks face cultural and language barriers in providing assistance to households of mixed citizen status. "There is a fear that by seeking social services, their information will be passed on to the federal government… but we have done a fabulous job of recruiting bilingual folks. I think we're meeting that challenge," Martin says.
While Manna and other nonprofits lead the charge against food insecurity in Montgomery County, community members like Farzaneh Nabavian, Blair's Parent Community Coordinator, help reach out to the county's most vulnerable members. Since the county's schools closed last March, Nabavian has provided food and other essential goods to the families and students of Blair, Takoma Middle School, and Rolling Terrace Elementary School who are in desperate need of help. When the pandemic first hit, her cell phone was flooded with messages from students who had lost their jobs and were living on their own, unable to feed themselves.
"When it [the pandemic] first happened, everyone was struggling to get help… At the very beginning, I was lucky enough to connect with Silver Diner [a local restaurant chain] through a non-profit, so I was actually picking up 60 to 100 meals a week and distributing it to families that needed it. I could have done more, but I just did it once a week. I did that on my own time," Nabavian says.
Now, she says, she provides food and support to families of all backgrounds and situations. "More and more, it's changing. If you come to Blair on the day that Manna is there and you look at the cars coming through, you can't say who is in the car, who is getting food. It's just so mixed," she says.
One anonymous Blair alumni who lives on her own shares how Nabavian has helped her get through the pandemic so far. "She [Nabavian] brings me everything, whatever I want, whenever I want. The only thing I have to do is just tell her. Whenever I need something, even if it isn't something from school, Ms. Nabavian is always here for me for support," she says.
Nabavian is a lifeline for students like her. "I am so happy that I met her. I feel like I have a mom. Even when I feel cold, I just have to tell her, and she will bring me a blanket or clothes."
Throughout the pandemic, the herculean efforts of food banks, volunteers, and caring individuals have kept families and students in Montgomery County fed and cared for.
Myles Feingold-Black. Hey! I'm Myles, and I'm a junior staff writer here at SCO. If I'm not writing a story, you can probably find me winding through Takoma Park either on a bike or in my running shoes. More »