So What Else, a Rockville-based nonprofit that operates a food pantry out of Lakeforest Mall, will be relocating the pantry as the beleaguered mall prepares to shut its doors.
The nonprofit began in 2009 and was exclusively engaged in youth programming until 2020. During the pandemic, So What Else gradually expanded to add a food pantry to its operations to meet community needs.
“So now we have a full-time food pantry as well as other satellite distributions, because not everyone that lives in the Montgomery County area or beyond can make it to Gaithersburg,” said Allie Bonney, the organization’s deputy director. “So, we have different satellite distributions and our walk-up food pantry that serves about 150,000 meals a week, which is really beneficial to the community.”
The pantry was set up at the Gaithersburg mall in Fall 2021. According to a news release by So What Else, the organization has served around 30 million meals since its inception, and the loss of the pantry “will potentially leave tens and thousands of vulnerable individuals without food assistance.”
Bonney said the mall’s parking lot was ideal during COVID since distribution was outdoors and rent was inexpensive.
Bonney and her colleagues thought the food pantry had more time, but when news of the closure hit them, the nonprofit had to scramble to find a new site.
“So, we’re just kind of doing what we can and trying to definitely raise funds to pay for a new space, because the rent is like 10 times the amount,” she said.
The pantry is figuring out the logistics to move to a new space in Rockville and will need to move out of their Lakeforest Mall space by April 10. The new space, Bonney said, will be accessible by public transportation.
Additionally, Bonney said, “we’re going to do a distribution at a church across the street from Lakeforest Mall three days a week for the people that are not able to get [to Rockville] and that are used to it being in Gaithersburg.”
The organization’s officials are encouraging people to visit the pantry during its last days to see the program and how many people benefit from the pantry.
“We’re also having an event on May 13. We’re calling it our ‘brick in the wall’ fundraiser. So, you’re essentially paying for a brick in the wall of the new space,” Bonney said.
Tickets and sponsorship registration are available at So What Else’s official website. The fundraiser will be held at 12615 Tribunal Lane in Potomac. Tickets cost $250 and sponsorship prices range from $500 to $25,000.