Every Friday morning, Owings Mills resident Lynne B. Kahn spends hours distributing meals to families who are food insecure at one of five Baltimore County sites.
“The need for food has steadily increased since March,” says Kahn, founder and executive director of the Baltimore Hunger Project. “We see the same families each week, as well as new families.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools in March, the Cockeysville-based nonprofit provided weekend food packages to approximately 700 students in Baltimore City and County. But when COVID-19 forced virtually everything to close, the BHP was required to pivot its food distribution methods and tactics.
Currently, the organization distributes approximately 1,500 weekend food packages to students as recommended by their schools. The food in those bags cost about $3,000 per week.
In addition, the BHP added five distribution sites in Baltimore County for families to obtain bread, eggs and produce.
“We were founded on the mission of weekend childhood hunger,” says Kahn, 51, a full-time CPA and Beth El congregant who founded the BHP in November of 2014. “What we realized when schools closed was that when kids don’t have access to food Monday through Friday, they are hungry all the time, not just on the weekends. And these kids don’t live alone, so we shifted to provide home-cooked meals, bread and produce for the entire family.”
Kahn says the BHP serves about 450 families at each location, the equivalent of feeding 2,250 people, plus the 1,500 weekend food bags for kids.
“It’s a powerful emotion knowing I can do this,” says Kahn. “I look around and I’m amazed at the response from the community.”
Along with the 80-plus regular volunteers that staff the BHP warehouse, pack food bags and distribute, there are many local organizations, businesses and groups that donate food to ensure that local families do not go hungry.
Some of those organizations include H&S Bakery, which has donated 2,000 loaves of bread every week since March; the Baltimore County Executive’s Office, which contributes produce; Rouge Catering, which donates home-cooked meals to distribute; Saval Foods, which has provided families with boxes of produce, milk and protein; and Chik-Fil-A, which donated more than 150 chicken sandwiches.
And it’s not only food that BHP provides for families. Since March, the BHP has partnered with the Baltimore-based nonprofit Art with a Heart to send home art projects to children; with Port Discovery to send home play packs; and with the Maryland Book Bank to distribute 1,000 books each month as a way to enhance and enlighten children’s minds.
Plus, individual donors have funded extra computers for kids and utility shopping carts for families to take their food home.
“We have hundreds of walkers who show up to our sites, and the amount of food we give them is too great for them to carry home,” Kahn says. “These carts will be for those walkers to own. Prior to getting them, we had an individual donor give a family a wagon for her to put her food in. The volunteer noticed the woman was coming to get the food with her young kids and couldn’t hold everything. Now, she can.”
According to the Chicago-based hunger relief organization Feeding America, one in nine individuals and one in six children in Maryland are considered food insecure or “lacking in reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.”
Pre-pandemic food insecurity was at its lowest ebb since the “Great Recession” of 2007-2009.
The COVID-19 crisis is expected to contribute to worsening the hunger problem even more and is in line with the Kahn sees on the frontlines.
“We are creating a beautiful relationship with these families,” she says. “One little boy comes and asks how I’m doing and tells me about school. There are two other girls who come to grab food during their school breaks and tell me all about how their days are going. And we have one gentleman who has been coming since March and now comes early to help us distribute. He puts his food to the side and stays for the next two hours to help us hand out food to others.
“Distributing food to these families is the highlight of my week,” Kahn says. “I’m really proud of what we are doing, and couldn’t do it without all the people who help.”
For information, visit baltimorehungerproject.org.