Students from Calvert County’s Career and Technology Academy spent their Day of Caring working at Serenity Farm on behalf of Farming 4 Hunger.
Prince Frederick, MD – For over two decades United Way of Calvert County has recruited locals to contribute a few hours of time once a year. The special event, “Day of Caring,” was held Wednesday, Sept. 9. More than 20 projects aiding United Way’s umbrella agencies were organized. Many of them involved outdoor labor and the crews of office workers, students and utility employees did not let the oppressive early September heat wilt their spirits and determination to get the jobs done.
“Today is a fun day away from work,” United Way Board Chair Jan Lomax of PNC Bank told the dozens of volunteers gathered a Bayside Toyota’s showroom in Prince Frederick. “What you do today will make a difference.”
While the agencies address a variety of needs, the organization’s recent focus—as part of its four-year-old Community Impact Strategic Plan— has been on trying to alter the challenging situation families find themselves in economically. Agencies that impact education, income and health have received the United Way’s financial support.
“We’re making many ripples, changing lives in our community,” said Calvert United Way President and CEO Kelly Chambers.
Three agencies—Chesapeake Cares Food Pantry (CCFP), End Hunger in Calvert County and Farming 4 Hunger—have expanded their efforts to feed struggling families. Their reach has extended beyond the borders of Calvert County.
According to CCFP Manager Debbie Weber, the facility in Huntingtown serves approximately 650 families in the Tri-County area and Anne Arundel County. Individuals seeking help from the food pantry for the first time are only asked to provide basic personal information. “That long walk through our front door is the hardest thing they’ll do,” said Weber, who added pantry clients can come by the facility weekly. While the aid has no time limit, Weber admitted, “it gives me goosebumps when they say ‘this is my last time here. I finally got the job!’ ”
Among the tasks performed by Day of Caring volunteers at CCFP were greeting and signing in families seeking help, as well as packing and loading groceries into clients’ vehicles. Day of Caring volunteers working at CCFP included employees of Calvert Memorial Hospital, the College of Southern Maryland and Amore Hair Salon.
Weber said the pantry’s clients include high school graduates who are having a difficult time finding work and elderly individuals on fixed incomes. Approximately 300 active volunteers spend time working at CCFP.
At the End Hunger in Calvert County warehouse employees of Exelon and Calvert County Government volunteered with maintenance tasks around the facility, which provides support to 20 food pantries and other organizations throughout the region.
Warehouse manager Cathy Ring explained that thefacility, which is located within the Calvert Industrial Park in Prince Frederick, helps pantries stretch food dollars by salvaging grocery products that might otherwise end up in landfills, unconsumed, due to grocery chains’ marketing whims. The facility also serves as a central repository for emergency supplies for the community.
One of the more intense work sites on the Day of Caring tour was located just outside of Calvert County at Serenity Farm in Benedict. There, 21 students from Calvert County Public Schools (CCPS) spent their morning and early afternoon toiling in the fields on behalf of Farming 4 Hunger.
“This is a way for the students to give back to the community, not a lesson plan,” said Career and Technology Academy (CTA) health teacher Jennifer Rachic. The students, who are enrolled at one of the four CCPS high schools, attend classes at CTA with a long-range goal of a career in the health profession. “It’s a career about health, giving and caring for people,” said Rachic.
Prior to being served a lunch of carryout pizza, the students and several other volunteers heard Farming 4 Hunger founder Bernie Fowler Jr. explain the origins of the venture, which has earned statewide recognition. After dealing with his own hard times in his business, Fowler subsequently reached out to the Robinson family of Serenity Farm. “We all just came together,” he said. Farming 4 Hunger has provided over one million pounds of farm-fresh produce annually. The fruits and vegetables are distributed to a variety of food pantries and the Maryland Food Bank.
Another amazing aspect of Farming 4 Hunger is its repurposing of jail inmates, who find a measure of rehabilitation by laboring in the fields. “Being out here opened up so much,” said “Rico,” who admitted to dealing drugs. “I destroyed this community in so many ways,” he said. “I was doing it for the money.”
“I was doing crazy things for a little bit of money,” said another inmate, “Sam,” who declared his actions were not worth it. “It cost me six years of my life.”
Other Day of Caring projects included the Arc of Southern Maryland’s annual picnic at Hallowing Point Park, which gave the volunteers from county government, Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, AXA Advisors and Precise Systems an opportunity to interact with the agency’s clients. Arc of Southern Maryland aids individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“Really, today is all about fun,” said recreational therapist Crystal Haislip.
Arc of Southern Maryland Director of Community Support Ron Mould said the agency serves about 200 people in the Tri-County area. “Some have been working 20 years,” he noted. While there is strong support from the business community, Mould said the agency is always looking for new partners.
Arc spokesperson Nkeshi Free said the agency, which started in Calvert and subsequently expanded into the other two Southern Maryland counties, will be celebrating its 40th anniversary with a series of events. The annual picnic, which had a “Happy Birthday” theme, was a way of getting the celebration started. “For 40 years old we look pretty good,” said Free.
For more information about the local United Way, visit www.unitedwaycalvert.org
Contact Marty Madden at email@example.com