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Courtesy of Lisa Bartusek

College Park’s two food pantries are grappling with an unprecedented surge in demand, echoing the strain felt by food banks across the nation.

An increase in demand from members of the College Park community and the University of Maryland (UMD) student body is emptying the shelves of the College Park Community Foodbank and the UMD Campus Pantry at unparalleled rates, according to the pantries’ operators.

“Comparing now to before the pandemic, it’s just like apples and oranges,” College Park Community Food Bank President Lisa Bartusek said. “Before, we were [open] once a month, now we are every week. Before, we were serving about 100 families a month. Now we’re like 1,500, 1,600.”

The sudden rise in demand is not unique to College Park; it mirrors a nationwide trend highlighting the profound challenges of food insecurity experienced in communities across the country.

According to Bartusek, the food bank has seen a marked increase in the number of visitors over the past year. 

“In the last quarter of fiscal year 2023 we had extremely high demand,” Bartusek said. We keep records of most individuals served, most food packages distributed, most families served, and we basically broke all of our records.” 

Bartusek attributed the heightened demand for food banks to high food costs, despite the cooling of inflation. 

Bartram Hipple said the UMD Food Pantry is experiencing the same high demand.

“It has almost doubled since the same period the year before,” said Hipple, assistant director of marketing and communication for UMD dining  services. “What we wrestle with here is we’re not sure how much of that is through increased visibility of the pantry, through the increased variety of food that we’re able to offer or a greater need.” 

Because of surging demand, the pantry has recruited additional volunteers and stepped up its efforts to bring in more donations of food. 

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Courtesy of Lisa Bartusek

“We have had to be creative and find ways to get food,” Hipple said. “The campus pantry manager, Larry Tomlin, has been tremendously creative in creating partnerships with businesses in the region.”

The College Park Food Bank purchases 75% of the canned goods and fresh produce it stocks at reduced rates from the Capital Area Food Bank and local farms; the balance is donated. 

In 2023, the food bank created a food-raising committee to figure out how to reduce costs, Bartusek said. 

This is the second year Clagett Farms, an initiative of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, has donated to the food bank. Elissa Planz, a vegetable grower at Clagett Farms, said in 2023 the farm gave more than 30% of its harvest — 25,000 pounds of produce — to the food bank. 

“I know the demand for actual food – and the logistics and storage for it – is such an obstacle for the smaller food pantries,” Planz said. 

Both food banks are staffed almost entirely with volunteers.