From the time he was 20 years old, Severna Park resident Richard Brooks has felt that he is spiritually called to serve others.
Brooks is originally from Ohio, where he was a member of the Church of the Brethren and spent a few years volunteering with the Brethren Volunteer Service, a full-time volunteer program that sends men and women on one- to two-year assignments across the nation and some locations across the world.
Brooks was first assigned to a town devastated by a tornado in Mississippi, and then to New Windsor, Maryland, in Carroll County.
“Getting into that organization brought me into Maryland, and I stayed when I finished up my term,” said Brooks.
Brooks worked at a pump company in Taneytown for 39 years until he retired. Afterward, Brooks and his wife wanted to settle down in a town that was close to a bike trail. The Baltimore & Annapolis Trail drew them to Severna Park.
Brooks’ proximity to the trail came in handy when his riding drew his attention to an area in need.
“My wife and I joined Friends of Anne Arundel County Trails and we adopted a flowerbed in Glen Burnie,” said Brooks. “We fixed the flowerbed up the first year and we spent a lot of time going up there. We noticed that there were some folks sleeping on benches or carrying everything they owned. We just kind of thought it would be a good area to give away some food.”
Brooks and his wife set up a food distribution box in their flowerbed for people in need. Once a week, the couple would purchase enough food for a few people and leave it in the distribution box. Though it is mostly anonymous, Brooks has met a few people who have told him that this small gesture has impacted them in a big way.
When members of their church, Unity by the Bay in Annapolis, heard about their efforts, they began to donate food and even take over distribution when Brooks and his wife are away.
“The people at Unity have really helped us to expand it,” said Brooks. “We now do it every second day.”
Unity by the Bay is one of 12 churches that support My Brother’s Pantry, a food relief organization that serves the Broadneck peninsula.
“They had not yet signed up with My Brother’s Pantry at that time, but they had asked me to be the outreach coordinator, and one thing we looked at was helping people in need of food,” said Brooks. “Unity of the Bay is on the edge of the Broadneck peninsula, so it was really suitable for Unity to help with My Brother’s Pantry.”
Each month, one of the churches and their team of volunteers takes over distributing and organizing food donations. In April, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Maryland, Brooks and Unity by the Bay were in charge.
“April was a very interesting month,” said Brooks. “We were dealing with a lot of change because of the health conditions and COVID. We didn't want to endanger ourselves or the recipients, so we had to come up with a plan.”
The pantry, which is located adjacent to College Parkway Baptist Church, did not have the appropriate space for social distancing. Brooks’ first step was to cut the regular team of about 10 volunteers to two. He also created a contact-free drive-thru system for distribution day and a safe delivery system.
“Before the distribution, Rich and his wife eliminated the normal working party and packed all grocery bags for 137 households and 346 individuals,” said My Brother’s Pantry volunteer Ken Yargus, who nominated Brooks for the Severna Park Voice Margueritte Mills Volunteer of the Month award. “Rich then called every client who missed their food distribution, made appointments and opened the pantry repeatedly to serve them. Rich also served 16 emergency clients and delivered food and masks to several who lacked transportation.”
In the future, Brooks is excited to help My Brother’s Pantry offer a wider variety of food to clients. The organization is looking into offering fresh produce and allowing the clients to pick their own items.
“I’m excited about the possibility of those changes,” said Brooks. “It’ll be an adjustment, because now we just do all the work in advance. But we’ll be a lot more free to let them pick what they want.”
Brooks’ favorite thing about volunteering with My Brother’s Pantry is meeting the clients and hearing their stories.
“I feel like I get a gift, just by working there, from the clients,” said Brooks.
To contact My Brother’s Pantry, visit www.mybrotherspantry.org or call 410-757-5190.