Dinners provided through the 5,000 Meals program Credit: VIA LIKE NEIGHBORS

A Gaithersburg nonprofit running a program that allows people to donate meals to area service members, veterans and their families is hoping to reach its goal of providing 5,000 meals before National Military Appreciation Month ends May 31.

The inaugural 5,000 Meals program, launched May 1 by Like Neighbors, provides free meals for service members and their families living around the Washington, D.C. area and in the Fisher House, a Bethesda residence where military families stay for free while family members receive medical treatment at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda or another military hospital in D.C. or Maryland. 

The 5,000 Meals Program is the first program run by Like Neighbors that solicits donations throughout National Military Appreciation Month specifically to pay for meals for service members and their families who are in need, according to Gaithersburg resident Judy O’Connor, who started the nonprofit in September.

Like Neighbors serves as a platform for users to deliver prepared meals using a meal provider, Galley, to friends and family members around the Washington, D.C., area that need support.

The 5,000 Meals program “provides a unique opportunity for people throughout the United States to thank our military and their families with just a couple of minutes and a few dollars each,” O’Connor said Tuesday.

After observing that many donors were already using Like Neighbors to provide meals to service members and their families, O’Connor launched 5,000 Meals to allow anyone to donate meals to service members.

“Some people were already using the platform to send meals to people they knew that were staying at Walter Reed Medical Center,” O’Connor said. “We realized this is such a great way that Like Neighbors is being used, so wouldn’t it be great to give everybody the opportunity to support local military this way?”

Participants who donate to the program can opt to purchase a $25 gift card that provides a meal to a service member of their choice, or they can donate meals that will be delivered to a family staying in the Fisher House for a price of $15 for each meal.

The total number of meals donated so far has not been calculated, but O’Connor is hopeful that the upcoming Memorial Day weekend will prompt an uptick in donations.  

“As people are getting ready to do fun things to celebrate, I hope that they keep in mind that Memorial Day is about honoring service members who have lost their lives, and that they decide to give back in an easy, meaningful and tangible way,” O’Connor said. 

Area companies such as Altimmune, General Dynamics IT and NTVI have partnered with Like Neighbors to help the nonprofit reach its goal of donating 5,000 meals. 

When the program ends, Like Neighbors will donate 20 percent of the proceeds it receives from referral fees collected after each meal is purchased through Galley to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. The organization, based in Arlington, Virginia, provides support services for friends and family grieving the loss of a loved one from military service.

The overall feedback from the recipients of the free meals has been positive, O’Connor said.

“We hosted a Fisher House meal in D.C. last week and the residents there were so grateful to come back from the VA medical center to a hot meal that was heated up and prepared by our volunteers,” O’Connor said. 

The positive feedback from recipients makes it crucial that a program such as 5,000 Meals continues in the future, O’Connor said. She and the Like Neighbors team plan to host the program again next May.  

“This is the first program that we’ve expanded to let anyone anywhere quickly, easily and affordably perform an act of kindness,” O’Connor said, “and it is an easy way to thank our service members in a way that is meaningful and tangible.”