Prince George's CountyWilliam J. Ford

Coronavirus Pandemic Threatens Food Security in Prince George’s

Gordan McKenzie and his wife have full-time jobs working at local hospitals, but supporting their four children can be a struggle.

McKenzie, who isn’t receiving any income at his second job as a desk operator in Greenbelt, Maryland, said a top priority is feeding his family, includes an 18-year-old son who returned home from Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama.

Fortunately, he picked up eight free meals Friday, April 24 at James E. Duckworth Regional Center directly across the street from his apartment complex in Beltsville.

“We’re lucky to be working, but it’s still a lot for us,” McKenzie said. “My second job isn’t paying right now, so this is exactly what I need. My 18-year-old is eating us out the kitchen.”

County Council member Tom Dernoga (D-District 1) of Laurel and World Central Kitchen partnered to distribute 1,000 meals for residents. About 300 of those meals were delivered to Selborne House senior apartments in Laurel.

Michelle Garcia, chief of staff for Prince George's County Council member Tom Dernoga, hands food to a resident during a free meal giveaway outside James E. Duckworth Regional Center in Beltsville on April 24. (Brigette Squire/The Washington Informer)
Michelle Garcia, chief of staff for Prince George’s County Council member Tom Dernoga, hands food to a resident during a free meal giveaway outside James E. Duckworth Regional Center in Beltsville on April 24. (Brigette Squire/The Washington Informer)

Residents have a couple of choices in meal packages: chicken, Spanish rice and beans, and fish, rice and beans. They also received a 2020 census flier to remind those who didn’t participate in the decennial count there’s still time.

Central Kenilworth Avenue Revitalization Community Revitalization Development Corp. helped organize free warm meal giveaways April 22 outside Templeton Elementary in Riverdale Park. About 95 percent of the students who attend the school are on free or reduced meals.

A report published this month by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states the coronavirus’s impact may not be known for months. However, the virus continues to negatively affect the food supply chain from producers to processors, marketers, transporters and consumers.

The report, “Addressing the Impacts of COVID-19 in Food Crises” outlines a four-part humanitarian plan to help the most vulnerable communities. They include the following:
• Set up a global data network;
• Stabilize incomes and access to food;
• Sustain a food supply chain in urban and rural communities; and
• Raise awareness in vulnerable about food safety and health regulations with national authorities and the World Health Organization.

The report calls for $110 million from the United States “to maintain the provision of critical assistance where there are already high levels of need, while meeting new needs emerging from the effects of COVID-19.”

Collaboration between government agencies, nonprofit organizations and environmental groups not only can help combat the spread of the virus, but also combine financial and other resources.

Chef José Andrés, who co-founded the nonprofit World Central Kitchen with his wife, announced Sunday, April 26 that the organization served more three million meals in six weeks in cities nationwide in response to the pandemic.

The organization began serving thousands of meals Saturday, April 25 in Baltimore at Orioles Park at Camden Yards. The goal is to serve meals for Baltimore City residents every Saturday at the baseball stadium and at city schools twice a week.

World Central Kitchen began to partner with Prince George’s County on March 20. Since that time, more than 10,000 meals have been distributed.

Lovette Allen of Beltsville received four meals Friday for herself and her cousin.

“A lot of people are struggling now with what’s going on,” said Allen of Beltsville, a fourth-grade teacher at Highland Park Elementary in Landover. “People have lost their jobs. It is beneficial for everybody to have something to eat. I’m just going to eat this for my dinner. I’m happy for that.”

In the D.C. region, food insecurity existed before the coronavirus pandemic invaded the area.

Radha Muthiah, president and CEO of Capital Area Food Bank, said at least 400,000 people in the D.C. area are food-insecure, or lack the financial means or resources to purchase food. About 120,000 of them reside in Prince George’s, the highest figure among the 10 jurisdictions the food bank serves.

With some businesses closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, about 47,000 county residents are unemployed.

To combat food insecurity, Bank of America will donate $500,000 and the county another $500,000 to the Capital Area Food Bank.

The announcement made last week outside the Wayne K. Curry Administration Building in Largo also highlighted a 90-day plan to provide food for residents. Part of the strategy will assess food insecurity rates in the county, an analysis of the demand from regional partners and those impacted due to recent unemployment claims.

Several thousand boxes of food are planned for distribution through “pop-up pantries” in the county. The goal is to serve 2.3 million meals through June.

More details of the plan are scheduled to be released soon.

In Beltsville, Bernice Lowe picked up about four meals for herself and her husband.

“This means a lot,” Lowe said of the meals. “The meals are delicious and you don’t have to cook. Whatever you have, you can stretch it.”

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William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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