A local food pantry is getting a fresh start after being pushed out of its facility, and despite the dramatic change, is still feeding more than 1,500 Montgomery County residents a week. On Friday afternoon the pantry received a visit and praise from Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) at its new location.
In March, So What Else had to scramble to relocate its food pantry operations after Lakeforest Mall, where the organization was operating, announced it was closing. The pantry ended up moving to a larger facility in North Bethesda, where its operations have continued since April.
“It’s been quite a whirlwind. And honestly, we had no idea where we were going to do, but it’s really nice how it worked out,” said Megan Joe, the organization’s director of operations for So What Else Montgomery County. “We’re really able to better serve out of this facility.”
On Friday afternoon U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) walked through the facility as part of his efforts to draw attention to food insecurity across the county and the state.
“You’re doing the work we need. We need this everywhere in Maryland!” Cardin exclaimed.
So What Else is a nonprofit that serves Montgomery County and the city of Baltimore. According to the mission statement on its website, So What Else’s mission “is to improve the lives of children and families living in underserved communities … by providing food security, access to basic necessities, and high-quality out-of-school time programs.”
The name aims to address the organization’s mission of asking “what else” they can do to serve the community.
So What Else feeds about 800-1,000 people weekly through its Saturday food pantry and an additional 500 families through home delivery in Montgomery County every week, according to Joe.
“We really like [the Saturday food pantry] option because it’s run farmers market style. People can walk up and choose the items that they like. But obviously, that doesn’t work for clients without transportation or who have disabilities. That’s where delivery comes in,” Joe said. She said the organization also works with other organizations that address hunger to have satellite distribution sites.
The organization also provides after-school literacy and arts programming for local underserved youth, and operates a clothing closet thrift store.
The facility includes a food packing warehouse, a public facing thrift store, a walk-up window for Saturday food distribution, and supply rooms and workspaces for after school programming. So What Else was also able to purchase a refrigerated truck for food pickups.
Joe said the organization gets a lot of its donations through corporations and grocery stores that donate their leftover food that is still fresh enough to eat.
Cardin said it’s important for the government to work with the private sector to address food insecurity. He said he’s also concerned about the amount of food waste produced across the country, and wants to figure out ways to get the private sector food industry to contribute food to people in need that would otherwise go to waste.
“I’ve visited facilities where they turn food waste into fertilizer, which is a really excellent solution,” Cardin said. “However, a lot of the food I see on my tours of those facilities is very fresh and could be consumed. We need to figure out how to get that food in the hands of people who need it.”
Cardin said that he and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 8) are actively working on addressing food insecurity through the Farm Bill.
“We have seen a rise in food insecurity around the world and here in the United States,” Cardin said in an interview with MoCo360. “COVID-19 had an impact on that, and now that the relief funds are drying up, we have to figure out how to work together to address this crisis.” While the yearly Senate bill addresses agriculture in the country, it also addresses the ways the government can support constituents through food stamps and the SNAP program, for example. Cardin said while the pandemic has eased and relief funding has dried up, the federal government needs to address the need that still exists.
Joe said the organization is always looking for volunteers, especially to help with home delivered meal distribution. More information is available on the So What Else website.