After Hurricane Maria, Non-Government Organizations and Food Banks Step In

Big food banks have served America and the world for more than 80 years. Along with 1,100 others across the United States, a place called the Prince George’s County Food Bank was founded in…

After Hurricane Maria, Non-Government Organizations and Food Banks Step In

Big food banks have served America and the world for more than 80 years. Along with 1,100 others across the United States, a place called the Prince George’s County Food Bank was founded in 1987. As recently as 2016, donations of food and other supplies supplied the pantry with enough food to feed more than 28,000 people.

The pantry’s plight, however, did not end with the Hurricane Maria catastrophe, as it did not immediately stabilize a situation that had been exacerbated by a stagnant economy. Food banks, like the one in Laurel, have grown to serve more and more members of the American community, perhaps even those more fortunate to land a well-paying job, but now often hit hard by the ongoing economic recovery — and not always through a conscious choice.

“In the beginning, it was just about convenience for the recipients,” said Brad Williams, a spokesperson for the Prince George’s Food Bank, which has served residents in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties since 1987. “Now it’s about how we can develop a long-term solution.”

In 2016, Prince George’s County Food Bank distributed 1.9 million pounds of food — that is nearly 1,000,000 meals per month — and it was so abundant that the pantry was forced to bring in other organizations to offer food to pantry recipients.

That’s difficult in the days of job growth, as some residents tend to drive further than an hour from Prince George’s County to the pantry, or near Baltimore, to secure the food. In those areas with the very fastest job growth, transportation and logistics have become increasingly important, in the job market and the food shelf.

The food bank, which also serves Montgomery County and the City of Washington, has two organizations that are open to people in the carpooling program. But food isn’t the only benefit of the partnership. Wendy Corbin, CEO of Food for the Homeless in Virginia, Maryland, said that job flexibility was among the most attractive parts of her non-profit’s program. Food for the Homeless partners with food banks around the country to distribute food, which is used by local residents at no charge. The non-profit also offers carpooling and job-sharing, which allows community members to take to the roads when it’s convenient for them to drive. The services are available to community members at low cost.

The benefits are clear for the food banks: Their customers come from regions of the United States that tend to be less economically integrated, and also have fewer job opportunities. With grocery shopping, students, and even the job market this way, food banks have become a fixture of American society. All in all, America’s food system is reaching more people, an ever-expanding market of hungry, presumably working, Americans.

But perhaps a bigger aspect of today’s food system, in general, is that no matter how efficient the food is, or how readily it is distributed, it doesn’t help people get on their feet. Too many Americans are still living in poverty. In a year in which millions were reticent to seek government assistance, the Feeding America network of food banks delivered more than 36 million pounds of food to individuals, families, and children. That’s enough to feed over 20 million families — but the hunger crisis is not as easy to solve as it is to maintain.

“The donations are plentiful and it’s really our responsibility to make sure that the pantry gives the best possible service it can to the people that we serve,” said Williams. “We continue to find ways to not only assist our partners, but to help people in the community in general.”

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