Pop-Up Pantry Meets Needs During COVID Crisis

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Five months ago, Kathy Metzger, a student instruction support specialist at Tyler Heights Elementary School in Annapolis, never dreamed that she would be running a food and supplies pantry for thousands of people in her community.

The pop-up pantry, however, has served more than 20,000 individuals (including 5,000 families) during the last few months, and the effort continues to grow. Many local organizations and businesses have joined forces to meet an enormous amount of needs in the community.

“During the first couple of weeks of [COVID-19], the school took a survey to ask close to 300 families in our area what their biggest needs were,” said Metzger. “The answers were overwhelmingly the same: food, diapers, cleaning supplies and toiletries. Many others said they needed school supplies.”

As a teacher with more than two decades of experience under her belt, Metzger knew that children would not be able to learn — even at home — if their basic needs were not met. She partnered with Severna Park native Janice Keating to brainstorm possible solutions to this problem, and they formed the idea of the pop-up pantry. The two reached out to Monica Alvarado, the owner of Bread and Butter Kitchen in Eastport and founder of Feed Anne Arundel. Alvarado agreed to order food for the pantry using funds provided by Metzger’s home church, Downtown Hope, and other contributors.

Meanwhile, Sara Daniels-Larson, the program manager of the Tyler Heights School Community Program, began collecting community data and working with the Anne Arundel County Food Bank.

Volunteers set up supplies, ready to distribute items as needed on a Saturday morning in the parking lot of Tyler Heights Elementary School. They were surprised by the turnout.

“Two-hundred families came the first week,” said Metzger. “We ended up running out of food.”

It became evident that the pantry would need more help. Downtown Hope donated the congregation’s entire Easter tithe (more than $30,000) to help the pantry reach more needs. Love Anne Arundel County, a coalition of like-minded churches functioning throughout Anne Arundel County, joined the effort. The Anne Arundel Food Bank participated as well.

In addition to giving food and money, local individuals, churches and businesses have donated hygiene supplies and children’s items. Giving Back Linda’s Legacy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to meeting the needs of the homeless in Anne Arundel County, donates more than 300 packs of diapers each week. Kari Bennoit, a volunteer with the pantry, has collected more than 120,000 diapers and organizes high school students to help unload the truck after food bank runs. Others give puzzles, educational books, games and bubbles for children who are sequestered at home.

“There are so many little things that most of us take for granted that mean so much to these families,” Metzger said. She noted that she was a Severna Park resident for over 33 years and “never dreamed that there was such a need just down the road.”

As the pantry has grown, it has become evident how many people through Anne Arundel County are in dire need of help. More locations have “popped up” around the county as well.

Metzger said that families stand in line for hours before each event in hopes of getting necessities.

“We are always looking for more people, more churches, more organizations who can be a part of this,” she said. “There is a huge benefit to the volunteers as well. It gives hope to all of us — the people giving and the people receiving.

“I get up every morning with such a sense of purpose,” she added.

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