This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.
After two years of major construction, the nonprofit Maryland Food Bank hopes to serve as a central point in the state for hunger relief efforts and expand its culinary job training program as it pushes for increased community efforts during national Hunger Action Month.
Community members who work for the organization, helped support the cause or directly benefited from the food bank’s assistance gathered last week to celebrate the completed remodel and look towards the next chapter for the nonprofit’s hunger relief efforts.
The Maryland Food Bank has been part of the hunger relief network in Maryland for over 40 years. For the organization, the grand re-opening of the facility will help them organize increased efforts to provide not only food assistance but also job connection opportunities, as many Maryland families continue to struggle to afford basic necessities.
“The level of need is continuing to remain in historic highs, so while we’re optimistic, we know that we can always provide solutions and we can continue to innovate in terms of how we solve for hunger,” Meg Kimmel, executive vice director told Maryland Matters.
The reopening celebration was attended by many state and local officials as well as community members and hunger relief partners. Some folks in attendance were Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski (D), Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Kevin Atticks, and House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County), who previously served on the Board of Directors for the food bank from 2010 to 2016.
“It is no secret in our state that hunger and food insecurity affects all communities across the state of Maryland. In particular, it hurts our children, our seniors and Maryland’s working families,” Jones said.
She said that the Maryland Food Bank has been at the forefront of hunger relief in Maryland, and that’s why “the state has been so committed to funding and supporting” its efforts.
“We know that students cannot succeed if they do not have access to a meal, that seniors struggle to manage their health issues without a healthy meal. And that families who cannot put food on their table need additional assistance to meet their basic needs,” Jones said.
Kimmel explained that the construction funds were thanks to a bond provided by the Maryland General Assembly a few years prior, and remodeling began in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve been under construction for the last two years, maybe even longer than that, and so to get to the point where not only can we host this gathering, we can welcome our friends and family back into this space, is just such an incredible moment for us that we haven’t been able to do for years,” Kimmel said.
And the reopening occurred during a busy time for the nonprofit. September marks “Hunger Action Month” a nationwide campaign to raise awareness for hunger insecurity. The food bank currently has a collaboration with the Baltimore Orioles called the Food & Funds Drive, where game attendees can bring non-perishables to Camden Yards and donate to the food bank.
“We do a lot of things, were doing a lot of outreach to our supporters,” Kimmel said. “We have our Orioles Food & Funds drive this month, which is a fantastic opportunity for folks to come out and see the Orioles — which, it’s a great time to see them — and contribute to the food bank.”
One of the flagship developments during the construction is an expanded community kitchen to bolster the FoodWorks Culinary Training program, which helps low-income individuals learn culinary and job-seeking skills over a 12-week intensive course. The goal is to provide each student a pathway to future culinary job opportunities while also helping to prep foods for hungry Marylanders.
In fact, some of the hors d’oeuvres served at the reopening ceremony were prepared by the current cohort of students in the brand-new kitchen.
“Our FoodWorks kitchen can now house twice the number of students than it could before. Which means, we can bring twice as many people through that program — twelve weeks, no costs, and there’s job placement assistance and support services along away. So twice as many people will get the benefit of that program, which is amazing,” Kimmel said.
But it’s more than just an upgraded kitchen, Maryland Food Bank President and CEO Carmen Del Guercio explained.
“It’s not just about having a larger space, it’s really about better design that allows us to work at several stations and learn a variety of concepts all at the same time,” he said.
“We can have one group of students prepping food on one side of the kitchen, another group can be searing chicken on one of our 12 new ranges,” he continued. “At the same time, we have another group of students in a lesson on knife skills and emulsifying sauces in our classroom, and yet another group can be upstairs in the computer lab, creating menus and working on their resumes.”
The Maryland Food Bank is headquartered in Baltimore and they have two sister locations, on the Eastern Shore in Salisbury and in Hagerstown in Western Maryland.
The renovations also provide additional workspaces for the staff and organizers the Maryland Food Bank, the sister locations, and community partners and distributors across the state.
Kimmel said that before the renovations, they were basically “sitting on top of each other,” and now have more space to serve as a community hub.
“We have so many more conference rooms and huddle spaces, so now we actually can be a community center, we can bring other organizations in here to have meetings,” Kimmel said. “We can bring our food pantry partners to talk with us or meet among themselves.”
She said that one of the main perks of the new space is the ability for staff to come back together and push forward new efforts to reduce food insecurity in the state.
“It really is a game changer.”