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 tomorrow – Tuesday– by the nonprofit, Baltimore Gift Economy, who will distribute it to individuals facing food insecurity who are living in the Irvington neighborhood of Baltimore City. 

This week it looks like carrot soup on the menu. 

At the same time, Greg Strella and team are out in the fields, surveying the crops. It’s fall, so the fields are full of  leafy greens—beautiful Swiss chard, kales and more –that will be harvested later that week, then given out to community members at Owings Mills High School through the Baltimore County Student Support Network’s Emergency Food Distribution.  

Since August, Pearlstone, an agency of The Associated, has distributed more than 3,000 pounds of produce at Owings Mills High. 

Yet, this is just the beginning. From Baltimore City to Pikesville’s backyard, Pearlstone is making use of the crops its farmers grow in the fields and the food prepared by its professional culinary staff to provide tasty, and healthy meals for those families and individuals who are struggling with access to quality, affordable food. They even provided strawberry plants to eight urban farms which should expect to harvest fresh strawberries next spring for city residents. 

“When the pandemic hit, we looked at how we could reinvent ourselves until things returned to normal” 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.” 

Closeup of several brown paper bags standing up

As part of their emergency food response effort, Pearlstone is partnering with a number of 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 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. 

Since March, Pearlstone has distributed 20,000 meals around Baltimore. 

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. 

Helping Older Adults 

One of the demographics hit hardest by food insecurity are the seniors living in our community. Concerned for their health, finances and at times, socially isolated, many relied on the support of others. 

Once again, Pearlstone stepped in, working with Jewish Community Services (JCS) and CHAI to get fresh, healthy food in the hands of older adults. 

Every other week, they would deliver 50 boxes of food to JCS and CHAI clients – healthy meals prepared in their kitchen that often includes soup, casseroles, certified organic produce and dessert. Overall, they will deliver 4,950 meals in total to this older adult community.  

And, this month, they will hold their second program to welcome Shabbat for homebound older adults, all Holocaust survivors. Held in conjunction with JCS this Zoom program features singing, an explanation of the Torah portion of the week and a virtual “tour” of Pearlstone, including a visit to the goats. Each participant receives a Shabbat meal, delivered to their door, so they can eat together, even though they are in their own homes. 

“This was particularly uplifting and interesting, due to the fact that most of us are homebound now” said Irma one of the participants of the first Zoom Shabbat program. “Although this was by Zoom, we felt we had visited Pearlstone in person and were very happy and grateful to be so entertained and fed.


A Community Affair 

At the same time, Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC) has distributed more than 18,000 bagged lunches to local shelters through its Bunches of Lunches program. The program, which began pre-coronavirus, as a volunteer initiative with the Krieger Schechter Day School, has since grown during the pandemic. 

Pearlstone is also looking for volunteers. For those interested in packing up boxes of food, contact Eve Wachhaus, Deputy Director. 

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