Hyattsville begins Saturday food distributions amid pandemic
By Dorvall Bedford
Magruder Park was packed on Nov. 14, as dozens of cars arrived to pick up food that morning. Police officers and organizers controlled the traffic while volunteers quickly grabbed boxes and placed them into the trunks of people’s cars. The City of Hyattsville distributed 1,092 boxes of perishable food within only two hours.
“We needed to get people moving,” Community Services Manager Colleen Aistis said.
The park was even more crowded on Nov. 21. A line of cars stretched from the park to the intersection of Hamilton Street and 38th Avenue. There was also a long line of walk-ins.
The City of Hyattsville is currently hosting food distributions at Magruder Park every Saturday through Dec. 19. Volunteers start giving out boxes at 10 a.m.
The Department of Community Services, the Department of Public Works and the Hyattsville City Police Department are working together to coordinate the distributions. Cheri Everhart, events manager and acting director of the Department of Community Services, said the distributions aim to help local residents struggling during the pandemic.
“There’s a lot of food insecurity in this area, specifically right now, due to lost wages,” Everhart said.
Aistis noted that the distributions also help people with more than just their immediate needs.
“I think it’s the human need that is being met,” she explained. “This is a very scary time. It’s very unknown to all of us.”
Volunteers help create an engaging environment where people can find human connection, Aistis said.
In addition to the Saturday food distributions, Hyattsville has been holding Tuesday noon food distributions since early April, according to Aistis. Throughout the spring and summer, the city provided fresh fruits and vegetables. In early September, these distributions switched to a different model and provided nonperishable food, such as cereal and canned fruits. The Capital Area Food Bank provides the food boxes for the Tuesday distributions.
The Department of Community Services receives its boxes of perishable food for the Saturday distributions from the Prince George’s County Council and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“We are very fortunate to partner with our county councilmember, Deni Taveras,” Aistis said. “And we’re very fortunate to partner with her as she forged a partnership with the USDA.”
Taveras represents District 2, which includes Hyattsville. She has consistently promoted area food distributions, including those held at the Langley Park Community Center, Metropolitan Seventh-day Adventist Church and Magruder Park.
Taveras said she is most worried about people who are undocumented or unable to support themselvese during the pandemic.
“This is basically a community that’s living on the edge,” said Taveras.
The Department of Community Services has relied on dedicated volunteers who have been working at the distributions since the beginning, Everhart said. Recruiting volunteers for the Saturday distributions has been easier, since high school students can help.
“We rely heavily on volunteers,” Everhart said. “Without them, we couldn’t do this.”
City Councilmember Ben Simasek (Ward 3) was among the volunteers on Nov. 14.
“Everyone’s coming out and trying to help out their neighbors in need,” Simasek said. “I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
Everhart said people who are struggling right now should take advantage of every opportunity available.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” she said. “There’s a lot of people out there that are willing to help and are available to do so.”
Dorvall Bedford is a journalism student at the University of Maryland.