As has been the case most every second Wednesday in September for the past 20 years, there was work to be done Sept. 10. United Way of Calvert County recruited the army of volunteers from several local businesses and the Calvert Academy of Technology.
The participants gathered early in the morning at Bayside Toyota in Prince Frederick before tackling over 20 projects aiding several of United Way’s umbrella agencies. The prelude included a display of previous event T-shirts by United Way staff of longtime volunteers.
“The agencies make the very best use of the money you give them,” said Gus Wolf, one of the repeat volunteers. Another frequent Day of Caring volunteer, Brian Davis, recalled the community’s quick response to a deadly tornado that tore through Southern Maryland in April 2002. Referring to the roster of the 2001 United Way agencies and Day of Caring volunteers “this is the list we came to.”
In fact, a tour of several of the agencies’ projects found a mobilized force of workers ready to address the community’s biggest challenges.
The tour group traveled to Chesapeake Cares Food Pantry in Huntingtown and was greeted by outreach minister Robin Brungard. Of the pantry’s clients, Brungard said, “this is the hardest door anyone will walk through.”
The food pantry is located on the campus of Chesapeake Church. According to data the staff has compiled, in a typical month the food pantry feeds nearly 2,300 families and over 5,000 individuals; and distributes nearly 58,000 pounds of food. Typically, the adults served by the food pantry are working.
Brungard said the food pantry staff aids clients with other county services. “We create opportunities for them to access those services,” she explained. Among the services is financial counseling, which Brungard said helps clients to discover “self-sufficiency, to empower families to take care of themselves.”
While some of the food provided at the pantry includes the familiar, non-perishable staples, Brungard pointed out that fresher, healthier food is also distributed. “We want to provide healthier food and information,” she added. In addition to United Way funds, Chesapeake Cares Food Pantry is aided by private donations, foundation money and area farmers.
The United Way tour bus also visited two other project sites—the End Hunger in Calvert County warehouse located in the Calvert Industrial Park and Farming 4 Hunger based at Serenity Farm just outside the county in Benedict.
At the warehouse, Cathy Ring, the director of operations, explained the facility’s mission to aid the various food pantries in the area with such challenges as lack of space and adequate refrigeration. “We want to remove the obstacles,” she said. The warehouse has 12,000 square feet of space for a variety of fresh and non-perishable food. Ring said the most ever held at the facility was 100,000 pounds of food. However, the bounty moves quickly. “Our goal is not to hoard this food and keep it,” said Ring, but to have it ready to be moved and distributed. Manpower is every bit as critical as space. “The more volunteers you have the more people you can serve,” said Ring. “Calvert County is a generous, generous community.”
By having the space for storage, the warehouse can also play a critical role in times of urgency. “Now, we are in a position to be a resource,” said Ring.
Another service of the “End Hunger” effort in Calvert is a culinary school which has as many as 15 students at a time.
Grant funding helps keep the warehouse in operation. Ring said the biggest need is “the dollars to keep buying things.”
At the farm, tech academy students and other adult volunteers were busy inspecting and packaging fresh produce.
“We aggregate the produce here,” said Priscilla Wentworth, a Farming 4 Hunger volunteer. She explained that the farm project partners with nearly 60 churches in the Tri-County area. Over 6,000 pounds of food goes out from the farm to the food pantries six days a week. “Most of the food is staying right here in the community,” said Wentworth.
Other project sites on the Day of Caring bus tour included a picnic at Hallowing Point Park in Barstow for clients of The Arc of Southern Maryland. The regional agency is tasked with assisting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Staff, volunteers and attendees had great weather in which to have fun, play games and enjoy great picnic-style food. “We were very lucky to have a beautiful day like this,” said Terry Long, the Arc’s executive director.
At Calvert Adult Day Care, the Day of Caring volunteers helped staff with planned activities for the elderly and disabled adults. Other volunteers performed yard work at the facility’s outdoor covered courtyard. Calvert Adult Day Care Executive Director Ruth Lake said the structured program has been in existence since 1986. Although it is housed in a county building (the Health Department Building in Prince Frederick), Adult Day Care is not a county agency. The program allows its clients to live in their homes longer. Six staff members are at the site and the program also employs at least one bus driver since state law requires that transportation be provided to the clients. A state grant allows for Adult Day Care to implement a sliding scale fee for clients.
The tour’s final stop was at Barstow Acres Children’s Center. Volunteers were on-site building a structure called a pergola in the center’s garden. The center’s founder and director Sonia Hinds explained the center on Main Street in Prince Frederick works with children who have behavioral problems. “We do a lot of work with parents,” said the Panamanian-born Hinds, who parlayed her long career in the U.S. Army into one where children discover the joys of learning. “I wanted to bring some diversity to Southern Maryland,” said Hinds. The children attending Barstow Acres work on their social skills during the morning sessions. “We have fun in the afternoon,” said Hinds, who added the day’s agenda often includes field trips and physical activities.
“Fabulous,” was how Calvert United Way Director of Operations Sherri Gedridge described the 2014 Day of Caring. Gedridge coordinates the Day of Caring and began getting the specific projects organized in June. Volunteers are able to register for participation on-line, an option that Gedridge stated “went well” this year.
Calvert United Way President and CEO Kelly Chambers said the organization’s annual campaign to increase funds will be officially kicked off at this year’s Patuxent River Appreciation Days Parade. Chambers said the local United Way remains hopeful of attaining the $1 million mark, which likely means increasing funds by enrolling more of the county’s labor force in the workplace campaign. She added that last October’s federal government shutdown hindered the campaign but the support given at the annual Mardi Gras this past March helped the local organization immensely.
For more information on United Way of Calvert County visit www.unitedwaycalvert.org
Contact Marty Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org