Food Distribution Program Seeks to Aid Counties With High Concentrations of Newly Unemployed

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The Maryland Department of Human Services announced Thursday that its proposal to use USDA food products to deliver 1 million pounds of food to areas most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic has been approved.

In conjunction with the Maryland Food Bank and the Capital Area Food Bank, the department is debuting the Disaster Household Distribution Program to ensure that families in need across the state are given adequate resources through a network of food banks, pantries and assistance programs.

The program provides “disaster food packages” for one- and two-person households. Each package includes frozen meats, beans, shelf-stable milk products and canned goods, among other staples. Larger households can apply to receive multiple packages. 

“Like the rest of the nation, Maryland has seen an unprecedented surge in unemployment insurance claims following the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus,” said Lourdes R. Padilla, Maryland Department of Human Services Secretary, in a statement. “Now more than ever, people across Maryland need food assistance.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services told Maryland Matters Thursday evening that the packages consist of existing supplies of USDA-purchased food.

The state Department of Labor reported Thursday that 47,545 Marylanders applied for unemployment insurance benefits last week. Since the state of emergency began on March 5, over 340,000 Marylanders have successfully filed for unemployment benefits. 

Run through the Emergency Food Assistance Program, the service will be targeted at jurisdictions that saw a minimum of 2,000 unemployment insurance claims last month, with additional counties being added as more data from the Department of Labor becomes available. 

At this time, 18 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions, including Baltimore City, have met the program’s eligibility requirements. 

The state has made other efforts to increase food accessibility to communities in need since the onset of the viral outbreak. 

Last week, the Department of Human Services submitted a proposal to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to allow state food retailers to accept SNAP benefits through online purchases, and earlier this month announced that it would be expanding $66 million in benefits to households that need assistance during the pandemic. 

Additionally, the SNAP program’s work eligibility requirement was successfully waived for Maryland residents late last month, and the USDA approved a six-month extension for program certification and reporting for SNAP recipients.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit World Central Kitchen, the brainchild of world-renowned chef José Andrés, announced Thursday that it will expand its food relief operation in  Baltimore beginning Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Lot H of the Camden Yards Sports Complex.

“This certainly isn’t how we planned to be using Camden Yards right now, but at the very least, we can use the space to help families in need during this crisis,” Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said in a statement.

Each Saturday, World Central Kitchen, working with a company called Revolution Foods, will distribute 10,000–20,000 individually packaged, fresh meals in Baltimore for residents to pick up and take home for the weekend. Lot H, adjacent to M&T Bank Stadium at the Camden Yards Sports Complex, is a short walk from south Baltimore neighborhoods, has ample parking, and is located near the Hamburg Light Rail station.

Earlier this week, World Central Kitchen began distributing meals at 10 public school sites in Baltimore. Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City) reached out to the nonprofit after hearing about its food distribution operation outside Nationals Park, the Major League Baseball stadium in Washington, D.C.

“We know that some families need access to meals on the weekend – so we are teaming up with the Orioles, the Maryland Stadium Authority, and the City of Baltimore to help those families,” said Nate Mook, CEO of World Central Kitchen.

Thomas Kelso, the Maryland Stadium Authority’s chairman, said the agency, which originally was set up to build and manage professional sports stadiums, takes on “additional projects” whenever government agencies ask.

“In this instance, it is especially gratifying to support World Central Kitchen so they can provide our neighbors nourishing meals during this crisis,” Kelso said.

The World Central Kitchen food relief operation at Camden Yards will continue on Saturdays as community needs remain.

In addition, the Salvation Army of Central Maryland has established a COVID-19 relief hub on Lot C of the Camden Yards Sports Complex and plans to distribute 10,000 meals daily to vulnerable seniors in Baltimore City. That operation, which will kick off Monday, will provide a cold lunch and a microwavable dinner.

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Hannah Gaskill
Hannah Gaskill received her master’s of journalism degree in December 2019 from the University of Maryland. She previously worked on the print layout design team at The Diamondback, reported on criminal justice in Maryland for Capital News Service and served as a production assistant for The Confluence — the daily news magazine on 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR member station. Gaskill has had bylines in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune, among other publications.Before pursuing journalism, she received her bachelor’s of fine art degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. She grew up in Ocean City.