Church leaders often take on many wonderful programs to help those in need in their communities. However, their congregations are engaged in so many things these days, that it is sometimes difficult to convince enough helpers to pull off a service project. At this week’s Hub and Spoke Task Force meeting in Hughesville, church leaders representing dozens of churches in Southern Maryland said that they had no trouble getting help in hosting ‘food drops’ in their communities.
Food drops are arranged by the Maryland Food Bank. A truck shows up 1-2 hours prior to
the announced time for those in need to arrive. Six to eight pallets are unloaded and volunteers bag or box the food and then distribute the food to up to 200 families. This year, most of the food distributed in Southern Maryland was grown by Farming 4 Hunger.
In the Spring of 2013, Maryland legislature passed a bill to study the implementation of a Hub and Spoke Program in the Southern Maryland region. The legislation was first initiated by Senator Mac Middleton and Delegate Sally Jameson after they learned that in 2012 Farming 4 Hunger had raised over 400,000 lbs of produce which was donated to the Maryland Food Bank. They realized that the program had huge potential under founder Bernie Fowler Jr.’s leadership. However, there were challenges with food distribution. Produce was being trucked to Baltimore only to be reloaded and returned to Southern Maryland for distribution. This resulted in loss of food freshness and a waste of fuel. Also, they realized that other farmers might be able to expand the variety of food donated if there were some tax incentive to help cover their harvest and transportation costs. If these issues were ironed out under the direction of an appointed Hub and Spoke Task Force, the Program might be replicated throughout the state.
As the Task Force was being formed, Bernie focused on growing produce at Serenity Farm. He set a goal to grow a million lbs of produce with the help of the Robinson family members who own the farm. When the produce approached harvest stage, he reached out to area churches, clubs, sports teams, etc. to assist in the harvest. The response was amazing. Over 5,000 volunteers came to the farm during the harvest, including scout troops, school groups, sports teams, and even the entire University of Maryland Football Team.
Bernie also reached out to Gary Maynard, Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to ask for inmates to help with the harvest. The Secretary is an ardent supporter of his Department’s “restorative justice initiative” to help inmates transition back into their communities.
On my trips to the farm, I saw firsthand the friendships that developed between the inmates, the volunteers, and the church leaders who assisted in the harvest. Observing the work and the friendships being formed between people from all walks of life, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Rector Joanna White said “This is the way it is supposed to be. I’ve always believed in Heaven and its here.”
On September 16th, Gary D. Maynard, Secretary of Public Safety & Correctional Service, came to Serenity Farm to celebrate the milestone of exceeding the original goal of one million pounds of food and to thank Farming 4 Hunger for its work with the inmates. He indicated that this program was one of the most effective in the state for helping inmates to transition out of incarceration. Bernie noted that they were a unit—Farming 4 Hunger, the Robinsons, the volunteers and the inmates. The final tally for the year–Farming 4 Hunger had exceeded 1,600,000 lbs. of food raised and donated.
The Hub and Spoke Task Force will file its report to the legislature by the end of the year. Before it is complete, the Task Force is asking farmers and food producers to participate in a discussion regarding an economic tax incentive for farmers and food producers to donate locally grown food to the hunger community on Tuesday, November 5th at 5 p.m.
In addition, the Hub and Spoke Task Force will hold a community forum on Monday, November 18th to present the draft report recommendations and solicit feedback from interested community members.