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Donations that make a difference

Charlestown partners with Maryland Food Bank to help feed the hungry

Created date

May 22nd, 2012

Cooking for 2,000-plus people every day can be challenging, but Charlestown s six on-site restaurants seem to have it down to a science. But Dining Director Larry Snowberger admits even the most seasoned professionals can miscalculate from time to time. No matter how well you plan, inevitably when you re cooking in large quantities you re going to have leftovers, says Snowberger. The question really comes down to what are you going to do with those leftovers. As it turns out, the answer was easy. I heard about the Maryland Food Bank soon after I came to Charlestown in 2010, says Executive Chef Susan Seykoski, who was acquainted with hunger organizations like DC Central Kitchen, the Chef and the Child Foundation, and the Chefs Move to Schools program. After learning more about the organization, it seemed like the perfect fit. According to their website, the organization, which serves all of Maryland except Montgomery and Prince George s Counties, functions as a clearinghouse for large amounts of donated products gathered from the food industry and distributed to soup kitchens, food pantries, and emergency shelters. In 2011, the Maryland Food Bank distributed more than 23 million pounds of food to a statewide network of partners.

Food for thought

A report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that in 2010, 17.2 million households in the U.S. (approximately one in seven) were food insecure the highest number ever recorded in the nation. The biggest misconception is that our clients are homeless or extremely poor, says Aida Blanco, executive chef at FoodWorks, a community kitchen program at the Maryland Food Bank where donated food is prepared, quick-frozen, and packaged for distribution. In fact, of the 466,000 Marylanders who are currently food insecure, 45% live at 200% or more above the federal poverty line that s an annual income of about $46,000 for a family of four, she says. These middle class families don t qualify for federal food assistance programs like SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], WIC [Women, Infants, and Children], and free or reduced price meals like the very poor do and turn to the Maryland Food Bank and our network partners to help make ends meet. Last year, Charlestown donated approximately 4,000 pounds of unused food to the Maryland Food Bank, helping feed hundreds of hungry people. Our partnership with Charlestown has been a blessing. Their donations have allowed us to feed nearly 30,000 people, says Blanco. To learn more about its operation and mission, staff members of the Charlestown Dining Services Department, led by Seykoski, recently toured the 93,000-square-foot headquarters of the Maryland Food Bank in Halethorpe where they received a behind-the-scenes glimpse of FoodWorks. Visiting the Maryland Food Bank was an impactful experience for our chefs de cuisine and restaurant managers, says Snowberger. It showed the magnitude of their operation and how one single serving of food makes a difference. Everyone left with a better understanding of the needs of those served by the Maryland Food Bank and its innovative programs designed to end hunger in our state.

Common denominator

FoodWorks educates trainees in nutrition and food handling for future job placement. Charlestown employs two cooks from the FoodWorks program. It felt only natural to hire young culinarians from the FoodWorks program for our kitchens here at Charlestown, says Seykoski. The students have a strong training base after completing the FoodWorks program, and Charlestown is a great environment to hone their culinary skills. Blanco agrees the partnership is a win-win situation. Charlestown is seeking employees that meet their high level of commitment, she says. FoodWork s graduates are fresh, knowledgeable, and eager to learn, which fits perfectly with Charlestown s workforce development plan and provides stable gainful employment to our graduates. As for the future, Snowberger says he hopes the partnership between Charlestown and the Maryland Food Bank will continue to grow. This partnership celebrates all that Charlestown is about, says Snowberger. Our goal is to make our community a better place that includes inside and outside our gates.