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Finding community through outreach

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Posted on: March 10, 2022

By Prakhar Mishra

Community Connect Calvert Hills (CCCH) launched a food distribution project at the onset of the pandemic with the simple goal of serving the community. The initiative largely serves immigrants and senior citizens but organizers hope to include students at the University of Maryland, too.

Prakhar Mishra is from northern India and is completing his second year as a grad student in engineering at the University of Maryland.

Eighty-year-old Carol Nezzo, a former Spanish teacher with a background in gerontology and public administration, and Christal Batey, who works for the City of Greenbelt, were instrumental in launching the initiative. Early on, Christal sourced produce for CCCH to distribute. As the program grew, so did demand for produce, and Carol turned to the Riverdale Christian Life Center to meet the community’s needs. The center supports local food distribution efforts in addition to running its own food pantry and distribution program.

I came to College Park from Bereilly, a city near the Himalayan mountains in northern India, in December 2020 and found my rental at Carol’s home through Craigslist. I started helping with CCCH’s monthly food distribution program and soon felt part of the dedicated and energetic band of volunteers working under Carol’s leadership.

The stark cultural difference between the U.S. and India, regarding the plight of older people, surprised me. In northern India, family members take care of their elderly relatives. There is no need for the sort of social systems like you have here in the United States.

CCCH currently serves more than 100 people every month, and we accomplish a tremendous amount through teamwork, but individuals’ contributions are vital to the program’s success, too. Irazema Fuentes unloads trucks and connects with local Hispanic and Latino communities to reach those in need. Volunteers Jim Barns and Al Fu have been distributing produce since the beginning of the program, first moving donations from the Greenbelt distribution center and now from the Riverdale Christian Life Center.

Al Fu unloads food on Jan. 20.
Courtesy of Prakhar Mishra

Jim, who was deeply moved by the dire circumstances of Afghan refugees who relocated to our area, has opened not only his heart to them, but also his home, providing them not only with produce, but with shelter, as well. Marsha Reynolds works on quality control, efficiently sorting good produce from bad and coaching other volunteers on how to create appealing displays. Emily Mattes offers her technological expertise to the growing program, and with her support, CCCH now has an automated reservation system. And leftovers? Sue Cook makes sure that extra produce goes to Martha’s Table. What great teamwork!

“Even though it’s food distribution and help, the overall objective is to connect people,” Carol told me. Mission accomplished. Carol has already given me, an Indian student at the university, a great opportunity to connect with the City of College Park.

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To make a reservation to pick up produce on the third Thursday of each month, between 11 and 3 p.m., email co*************@gm***.com or call 301.864.527.

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