Montgomery County Food Security Collaborative Celebrates One Year

Through private donations and county grant, local food banks have access to app that matches them with surplus food supplies

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County Council member Roger Berliner speaks at the Montgomery County Food Security Collaborative event Thursday morning in Rockville

Via Montgomery County Food Security Collaborative

A coalition of Montgomery County nonprofits that wants to make sure no county resident goes hungry celebrated its first year of work Thursday.

The Montgomery County Food Security Collaborative, organized by Bethesda communications pro Andy Burness, raised more than $500,000 for consulting services, programs at local food nonprofits and to help start the Community Food Rescue Network.

The web-based app matches restaurants, grocery stores, farmers and others with extra unneeded food to groups such as the Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg and other nonprofits with food pantries. It also matches the food with volunteers willing to pick up and deliver it. 

Cheryl Kollin, who’s managing the program, said the network went public Sept. 8 and has already resulted in 11 food runs redirecting a total of 7,100 pounds of food that has served about 1,300 people. 

 In one case, a farmer at the organic Plow and Stars Farm in Poolesville reported she had 200 pounds of extra tomatoes. A volunteer picked up the tomatoes and delivered them to Shepherd’s Table in Silver Spring, which used the tomatoes to make sauce for a spaghetti dinner for 120 clients.

Grant money from the county’s Department of Health and Human Services also helped fund the program.

“There’s a lot of food recovery that goes on and has been going on for years. It has not been coordinated into a network and so that means food-assistance organizations may be making their own individual connections,” Kollin said. “There’s a lot of food still being wasted.”

Montgomery County reports that annually, around 23 percent of all solid waste handled by the county is food waste. The collaborative estimates that 70,000 county residents are food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to a sufficient amount of food.

“We clearly have a long way to go,” said Andy Burness, founder of Bethesda-based Burness Communications. “We have to go from well-motivated, well-intentioned and helpful gestures in a fragmented approach to one that is about fundamental reform of our food system.”

Burness said one of the goals of the collaborative is to bring nonprofits together to discuss how to share resources.

Linda Hanson, executive director of the nonprofit Gaithersburg Help, said becoming part of the collaborative resulted in regular emails from food-assistance groups about surplus food.

Gaithersburg Help was able to connect with the nonprofit Nourish Now for bread supplies for its food pantry. It got surplus baby formula from Manna Food Center and it received 300 pounds of donated frozen meat.

The Gaithersburg Help food pantry serves an average of about 100 families a week, with 4,426 families served more than 18,000 meals in 2014.

The collaborative on Thursday hosted a panel discussion on how to raise the profile of hunger in the county. It also released a report on its first year.

“There is enough food in Montgomery County to feed every hungry person,” said County Council member Roger Berliner who spoke at the event. “We throw away enough food to feed every hungry person.”

Burness said it’s his hope that more businesses will donate money to the cause in the collaborative’s second year.

“It’s not OK to have one of the wealthiest counties with so many hungry people,” Burness said.

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