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Ahead Of Holidays, Demand Increases At Maryland Food Bank

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's important to note that millions of Americans were already experiencing food insecurity before all the disruption caused by the coronavirus. And by that, we mean millions of people didn't consistently have enough food or the right kind of food when they needed it. And this year has seen a huge increase in the demand for food aid, and that's tested the organizations that were already doing the work. So we're going to touch base with one of the groups that we met earlier this fall.

Nourish Now is a nonprofit food bank based in Maryland that has set up food distribution events all over the state. In September, we visited one of their operations in Bethesda, Md., which is a suburb just outside Washington, D.C. Lisa Goldberg is vice president of Nourish Now's board of directors, and she's with us now.

Lisa Goldberg, welcome. Thanks for talking to us once again.

LISA GOLDBERG: Oh, thank you. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Could you just remind us what demand was like before the pandemic hit the U.S. and many businesses closed down or scaled way back to try to control it? And then, of course, I want to hear about what it's been like after all the shutdowns and school closings and so forth.

GOLDBERG: Yes. So in our area, we already had about 95,000 families that were food-insecure. And that's just in Montgomery County. I mean, you know, you expand out to Baltimore and other areas, of course, the lack of food and knowing where your next meal is going to come from was already high.

And with what's happened with the small businesses, restaurants, everyone shutting down because of the pandemic, you know, we've seen about an 800% increase in families that need food aid. So we were seeing about a few hundred families a week before, and now we're doing over 2,500 - about 3,000 families a week.

MARTIN: Wow. Have operations had to change in some way now that there's been another spike in COVID cases across the country? Have you had to change anything because of this?

GOLDBERG: One of the main things that we have to change is, you know, we have different parking facilities. We do a five-day supply of food, so in that - the boxes that we prepare, it's a lot of food, but it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of people to put the food into the boxes. It just - you know, it doesn't magically appear. We have to make sure we have our staff or volunteers.

And unfortunately, one thing that we're lacking is a lot of volunteers because people are afraid. We did a 10-7 distribution for Thanksgiving in Silver Spring, and it was hard to get people to help us pass out the food.

MARTIN: And being able to get the food - I mean, Montgomery County in Maryland has been helping to support Nourish Now with some of the $183 million that the county received as a result of the CARES Act. Now, that was kind of the economic support bill that was passed by the Congress, signed by the president. That funding is set to expire on December 31. Do you have any idea what that means for Nourish Now?

GOLDBERG: Well, yes. So December 31, when the CARES Act runs out - yeah, we're nervous because they do help us with food procurement. They help us pay for the actual food items that we're going to put into the boxes and distribute to the families. Of course, you know, we have tons of other expenses. Facility - like I said, we don't have volunteers, so we have to hire staff. We have to hire - have the walk-in fridges, the refrigerated trucks. All of that costs money.

I pray that we have another round of funding for that. But we were getting, like, milk and other supplies with the USDA grant, and that was picked up by another state. Montgomery County didn't even get that. So now the milk's gone, you know? So you never know what's going to happen.

At this point, with the economy the way it is, unless something miraculous happens, I don't see it getting any better. And I just hope that the government funding continues, or, like I said, we'd have to decrease what we're doing. But the demand is there. So - and the demand's increasing. It would be terrible for us to have to decrease.

MARTIN: That was Lisa Goldberg. She is the vice president of the board of directors at Nourish Now. That is a nonprofit food bank based in Maryland.

Lisa Goldberg, thanks so much for talking to us once again.

GOLDBERG: Thank you so much. You guys have a wonderful day.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOLANGE'S "GOD GIVEN NAME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.