By C.J. Lawrence
When the pandemic hit, Prince George’s County Public Schools spent over $20 million on Chromebooks and iPads to supply students with free materials for virtual learning, and the College Park Community Food Bank went from hosting food distributions once a month to hosting them every Saturday of the week.
But despite diligent efforts, the providers of these services are finding complications in their ability to serve the community as they face supply, storage and distribution problems with the resources that they provide.
“When we run out, we run out. There have been times where we just run out of food and we have to turn people away,” College Park Community Food Bank Director and Church of the Nazarene Pastor Mark Garrett said.
The College Park Community Food Bank’s primary source of food is the Capital Area Food Bank, which sells and delivers cheaper supplies of food, but Capital Area has a limited supply of food that they are willing to sell to College Park’s food bank. Garrett said that his food bank has to turn people away almost every time that it hosts produce giveaways due to the limited number of boxes of produce that are supplied to them at this time.
Alongside the issue of a limited supply of food, the College Park Community Food Bank is also facing a limited amount of storage space for the food that they collect from grocery store
purchases, the Capital Area Food Bank and food donations from those in the community. He said that every week, the food bank fills their storage rooms that sit at the basement of the Church of the Nazarene until they are full of food, only for the storage to be almost completely depleted by the end of each distribution.
Garrett said that this storage issue is also why the College Park Community Food Bank was not able to do a winter coat distribution this year. He said that the process of keeping up with the increase in demand for food during the pandemic has also required serious effort on the parts of the workers and volunteers involved with the food bank as well.
“It feels like almost a full-time job,” Garrett said.
College Park Mayor Patrick L. Wojahn is a frequent volunteer at the College Park Community Food Bank, and he said that the services that are provided by the food bank are vital to residents in the community.
“We need to do everything we can to help people out,” Wojahn said. “Providing that economic relief helps people get through this time.”
Prince George’s County Public Schools are facing similar issues to the food bank when it comes to serving the community. Joshua M. Thomas is the District 2 Board Member for PGCPS’ Board of Education and he claims that there is an issue with the distribution of electronic resources such as computers to students.
Thomas said that since the pandemic hit, PGCPS has worked to have a Chromebook or an iPad available for every student in the school system who requires one, but this ready supply of technology is not currently being distributed to and utilized by all of the students who need them.
Thomas says that this issue stems from the challenges of distributing these resources countywide. PGCPS typically does not deliver laptops or other technologies right to student’s doorsteps, which means that parents and students have to pick up this technology from school buildings themselves. Thomas said that a large issue is parents not showing up to pick up these resources for their children.
“I think we’ve been pretty good about communicating with everyone. But at the same time, what we can do is send out the robocalls and send out emails, but we cannot force people to jump in,” Thomas said.
Thomas believes that if the school system was funded better, PGCPS would have been better equipped to meet the needs of the community.
Rachel Donegan is the Assistant Director of Promise Heights, which is an initiative established by the University of Maryland School of Social Work that is focused on meeting the health, social services and educational needs of communities in West Baltimore. Donegan said that the community issues that College Park is facing can be relieved with key changes to their operations.
Donegan said that a lack of storage space for food in the College Park Community Food Bank can be addressed by delivering food to some residents instead of having them pick the food up at the distributions. Donegan said this same strategy of finding community members who cannot pick up the resources at the distribution site and providing them with home deliveries can also be applied to the PGCPS’ distribution of its computers to students.
Expanding food distributions beyond one distribution site was another strategy that Donegan mentioned when it comes to food distribution problems. Donegan said that establishing partnerships with different locations, such as other churches and schools in the area, also increases the storage and accessibility of food distributions.
“We tend to do distribution at multiple points in the neighborhood because we recognize that there are often barriers for transportation, even for short distances,” Donegan said.
Donegan also recommended that the PGCPS contact parents through in-person phone calls rather than through automated robocalls and emails. Donegan said that in-person phone calls are important since contact info may have changed in a family and robocalls cannot distinguish whether or not a phone number is “good”.
“If a robocall was enough to get me to come to pick up a computer, I would go and pick up a computer,” Donegan said.
PGCPS Board Member Joshua Thomas said in an email that parents in the school system are now receiving personal calls about their children’s need to receive the technology.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of College Park Community Food Bank’s Facebook page.
C.J. Lawrence is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.