Volunteer groups come together to fight food insecurity
By Kylie Rau
Greater Riverdale Cares (GRC) and Route One Communities Care (ROCC) have partnered to address food insecurity in the region. As the COVID-19 pandemic has left families all over the world struggling to find sustenance, the greater College Park community has not been spared.
These organizations have raised more than $325,000 since they launched their fundraising campaign during the 2020 holiday season. Their efforts are assisting hourly and self-employed workers, business owners and unemployed residents throughout Prince George’s County.
Bonnie McClellan, an ROCC coordinator and volunteer, said that organizations’ fundraising efforts aim to bring members of the community together while addressing some of the challenges businesses and families are facing.
“Our goal is to try to distribute 500 meals a week. We have a [lot] of restaurants that we use — mostly small, locally owned restaurants in the communities along Route 1 or close to Route 1 — restaurants that we felt might be in jeopardy of having to close during the pandemic if they did not get some support,” McClellan said.
“We thought for a while that, with the pandemic ratcheting down in the spring and the summer, that maybe there wouldn’t be as great [a] need but that wasn’t true at all, because still most people weren’t back in their jobs, and restaurants were dealing with past rent bills and other debt.”
From Dec. 4 through Jan. 8, GRC and ROCC volunteers partnered with Greater Riverdale Cares (GRC) and Central Kenilworth Avenue Community Redevelopment Corporation (CKAR) and conducted a holiday art sale. Twenty-one artists contributed a total of 43 pieces to the sale, and proceeds supported residents in need, local restaurants and the artists themselves
“But also it gives us an opportunity to give visibility to local artists … You’ll notice that [every artist] has a little biography or talks about themselves. In some cases, they will give contact information, so if you see an artist you like, you could actually contact them and see if they have anything else that you like,” McClellan said.
“It’s just kind of a win-win all around for everybody — the artists, the community and the restaurants,” she added.
According to GRC and ROCC, some 39% of residents in the area served by these organizations experience food insecurity.
In a move that supports both small businesses and the community, these organizations purchase cooked meals from restaurants and distribute them to local residents. McClellan explained that they have been purchasing 500 meals a week at around ten dollars a meal, an allocation of about $5,000 per week to participating restaurants. About a dozen local restaurants are currently participating in the program, which has distributed more than 26,000 meals since April 2020.
“There are other groups that are distributing food, like Meals on Wheels and the College Park Community Food Bank, but … we are the only people buying meals from restaurants and putting them out. That distinguishes us,” McClellan said.
The pandemic has seen a 400% increase in the number of families in the D.C. region seeking food. As of October 2021, the unemployment rate in Prince George’s County was 6.4 percent, the 4th highest of Maryland’s 23 counties. And food insecurity is not solely a problem for the unemployed. Forty-four percent of employed residents had difficulty paying for housing, utilities, food and health care even before the pandemic.
Meal distribution sites include St. Mark’s Food Pantry, St. Jerome Catholic Church, Attick Towers Apartments, and Oak Ridge Apartments. United Methodist Church of College Park works with Al Huda to offer meals at the church that comply with Islam’s halal traditions. Parkview Garden Apartments are another halal-compliant meal distribution site.