Local Community Tackles Food Insecurity in Baltimore

It’s first thing on a Monday morning and the kitchen at Pearlstone is already buzzing. The Executive Chef Rebecca Pauvert, along with her culinary team, are hard at work preparing 150 quarts of tasty, nutritious soup. The soup will be picked up by Baltimore Gift Economy a nonprofit who will distribute it to individuals facing food insecurity who are living in the Irvington neighborhood of Baltimore City.

This week it looks like hearty quinoa and vegetable soup is on the menu.

At the same time, Greg Strella and the Stewardship Team are out in the fields, surveying the crops. It’s early spring, so the farm is full of young spinach and other salad greens, asparagus, garlic and a variety of herbs.

Throughout the pandemic, Pearlstone, an agency of The Associated, has been deeply invested in multiple partnerships to share delicious, nutritious food with our neighbors in Baltimore City and County. Since last Spring, freshly harvested Certified Organic produce from the farm at Pearlstone has reached an estimated 45,000 people.

Much of this was distributed at Owings Mills High School through the Baltimore County Student Support Network which manages a weekly distribution of more than 200,000 pounds of food supplies at 36 emergency food giveaway locations. Through a partnership with the Baltimore County Office of Workforce & Economic Development, Pearlstone has delivered up to 400 pounds of beautiful tomatoes, kale, collards and more to the Owings Mills distribution location which provides weekly nourishment for hundreds of people.

To date, more than 20,000 pounds of have been shared with more than a dozen community organizations including the Maryland Food Bank to supply their regional emergency food support network. In partnership with the Farm Alliance of Baltimore, 700 Certified Organic strawberry plants were donated to eight urban farms in Baltimore City which should be ready for harvest in just a few weeks.

Closeup of several brown paper bags standing up

“The precious food we are sharing through our work is flowing in several directions,” says Strella. “Think of it as a tree with different branches, each branch involving multiple inspiring and skillful partnerships that connect our work with the wonderful people we’re serving.”

“When the pandemic hit, we looked at how we could reinvent ourselves” said Jakir Manela, Pearlstone’s Chief Executive Officer. “In keeping with our core values, one of those ways was to utilize the food we grow on our land to help address the growing needs of food insecurity in our community. It’s a powerful way for us to live out our Jewish values.”

Pearlstone meals have been distributed through fifteen City and County government and nonprofit organizations to address this issue, including Promise Heights which reaches families in the West Baltimore communities of Upton/Druid Park. Pre-pandemic, Pearlstone provided educational opportunities at their 180-acre campus for students living in these neighborhoods.

“We worked with the schools for seven years,” said Manela. “When we couldn’t continue with the spring field trips and overnight programs this spring, we looked at how we could help. That’s when we realized how we could address the growing food needs facing these communities.” 

In addition, Pearlstone is providing food to the Jewish community, working with other Associated agencies, in particular helping get food to isolated older adults. Boxes of delicious casseroles, soups, salads, bread and fresh produce are delivered every other week to the senior residents of Weinberg Village as well as other older adults in partnership with  Jewish Community Services and CHAI.

Throughout it all, Pearlstone has adhered to strict safety standards, having been certified by ServSafe on COVID-19 precautionary measures on how to prepare and deliver food during the pandemic.

A Community Affair 

At the same time, since the beginning of the pandemic, Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC) has distributed more than 57,000 bagged lunches to local shelters through its community-wide Bunches of Lunches program. The program, which began pre-coronavirus as a volunteer initiative with the Krieger Schechter Day School (KSDS), has since grown during the pandemic. 

Held in partnership with Beth El Congregation, Beth Tfiloh Congregations and Schools and Chizuk Amuno Congregations and Schools, which includes KSDS, the program has provided meals to recipients of a number of nonprofits, including Manna House, Charm City Care Connection and Basilica Place.

A Woman writing notes with kids on a table

Robin Katcoff is one of the committed volunteers, who with her children, began making lunches from day one. In the beginning, the family prepared six bagged lunches filled with grilled cheese sandwiches, delivering them at the drop-off point every Monday; now they are up to 20. And they haven’t missed a week.

“Every Sunday night, making the lunches is on our schedule,” she says. “The kids are learning that there are people out there who don’t have what they have. My family says they are really happy I pushed them to get involved with the program.”

In addition to Bunches of Lunches, volunteers have made soup, through the kits provided by JVC, and casseroles as part of its Live with Purpose initiative. In total, the organization provided more than 60,000 meals communitywide during the pandemic.

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