Panel: Food Insecurity Exists Throughout Montgomery County

As many residents spent Monday volunteering in memory of Martin Luther King Jr., an organization in Montgomery County held an advocacy round table on how to help those who are food insecure now and into the future.

As part of Manna Food Center’s 40th anniversary, representatives from local and state government as well as non-profits toured its community food pantry in Silver Spring and then took a hard dive into food insecurity.

A mother of two young children, who did not wish to give her name, said that once she found a job, she was dropped from all public assistance programs, including the free and reduced school meals. She never realized how great it was for her children to receive breakfast and lunch as she currently strives to keep them eating well and making ends meet.

“These children are our future. They are not supposed to go to school hungry. Help us build our future,” she urged the panel members.

For one hour, Councilmember Gabe Albornoz, Maryland Delegate Jared Solomon, Montgomery County Food Council CEO Heather Bruskin and Montgomery County Public Schools Wellness Center’s Shaun Sawko discussed ways to not just curb food insecurity but also teach young people good nutritional habits for a lifetime.

Hunger “is present in every single neighborhood in the county,” Bruskin said. “Thirty-five to 40 percent of our children are at risk of hunger.”

Sawko explained how MCPS strives to make sure no student is hungry, and also teaches them “what healthy food is. We can really have that snowball effect of helping the whole county” if students are well-fed and aware, he said.

By listening to students and showing them healthy habits, “We are actually feeding the students. We are not feeding trash cans,” Sawko said.

The county soon will announce its blueprint of recommendations on hunger that will include universal free school meals and ways to collect data so individuals don’t have to keep filling out the same information on complicated forms to multiple agencies. The blueprint also is expected to include ways to strengthen the infrastructure of the numerous agencies involved in ending food insecurity throughout the county, Abornoz said.

“I believe we can put a dent in childhood hunger that is going to have an impact for years to come,” he said.

Solomon said the state also is working on food insecurity. He expects progress once Governor-Elect Wes Moore, a Democrat, is sworn into office on Wednesday.

Many federal programs to help residents through COVID are ending soon, and Solomon and Albornoz agreed that these gaps must be filled, especially if a predicted recession does occur in the near future.

Currently, hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals are helping feed the hungry here. Work needs to be done to consolidate some of this, the legislators said. Ideally, federal, state and local governments as well as non-profits will all work together to end food insecurity, Abornoz said.

Panel members urged everyone “to use their voices, tell their stories “to ensure that people realize there is food insecurity in Montgomery County.

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