By Lysha Williams
In 1976, Elizabeth Colnaghi opened a food pantry in her basement. Affectionately known as Betty, Colnagh soon offered additional services out of that basement, including emergency financial aid and transportation for families in need. Colnagh incorporated FISH of Laurel in 1976.
In 1998, a generous resident donated a home, at 308 Gorman Ave., to the nonprofit. In 1990, the organization dedicated the home as Elizabeth House in honor of Colnaghi’s years of service.
Elizabeth House has become a powerhouse of support in the city, with 2021 and 2022 tracking record-breaking, according to the FISH of Laurel website. During 2022, the food pantry distributed goods to 1,940 families — or about 6,598 people — an increase of more than 19% over last year’s count of 305 families. The kitchen has served 32,996 meals — an increase of nearly 60% over the prior year’s 12,078 meals. FISH of Laurel distributed approximately 33,010 lunches this year, 57% more than the 11,940 lunches in 2021.
Over the 2021 winter holidays, volunteers distributed 159 Thanksgiving bundles, 160 Christmas bundles, 52 Christmas gift cards and 48,489 pounds of produce.
“We are proud of the work we are doing on behalf of the Laurel community,” said Stephanie Hammond, president of the organization’s board. “We are forever grateful to all of our volunteers and donors and remain committed to serve until there’s no longer a need.”
Volunteers are the lifeblood of the organization, and their tireless and dedicated support is what fuels the nonprofit’s mission to deliver life-sustaining services every day of the year, including holidays. Nearly 380 new volunteers signed up in the past year to continue its mission.
Anyone, including high school students, church members, retirees and veterans, is welcome. Youth volunteers must be 12 years old.
There are two critical shifts — one being the prep crew that cooks and prepares the meals and bag lunches between 4 and 6 p.m., and the second being the serving crew, which serves the meals and cleans up between 5:45 and 8 p.m.
Elizabeth House regularly provides formal training for team leaders. Volunteers are given a 5 minute crash course in safety and sanitation practices and can work on their first day. Individuals are encouraged to donate food and other items, which volunteers accept daily between 4:15 and 5:15 p.m.
“The Fish of Laurel made me feel like I could make a difference in the community. I really enjoyed the times I was there!” said Cameron Ward, a volunteer who has helped on both the prep and serving crews.
Financial support, food donations and volunteers are also provided by a group of dedicated and loyal businesses and government entities including PG County Food Equity Council, TJMaxx, Eastern Automotive, a host of churches, mosque and synagogues, Laurel Mayor Craig Moe and Prince George’s County Councilman Tom Dernoga (District 1}.
“The city of Laurel is always proud to partner with organizations like Elizabeth house that offer nutritious meals for those in need,” said Carreen Koubek, special assistant city administrator. “Mayor Moe, Laurel City Council and the Office of Emergency Management recognize the immense jobs that these services provide in our city and they always believe in community helping community. Also, with the holidays coming up, Fish of Laurel is going to need all the help they can get to offer this assistance to Laurel families.”
If you or someone you know is in need of help, call 240-547-9023. To donate, go to fishoflaurel.org and click on the donate button.
Join the email list at email@example.com for a weekly list of shifts.