Monday, August 24, 2020
Family and spirituality

Amid coronavirus, ‘grab and go’ becomes the norm for Baltimore’s Catholic soup kitchens


The dining room at Our Daily Bread sits empty, as its meal program has been shifted to a “Grab-and-Go” basis. (Courtesy Catholic Charities of Baltimore)

Across the Archdiocese of Baltimore and throughout the United States, families and individuals rush to grocery stores to stock their pantries and refrigerators in response to the possibility that the coronavirus could have people stuck in their homes for the coming weeks, if not months.

Food uncertainty, meanwhile, was already a constant consideration for those experiencing homelessness, the unemployed and the under-employed.

Fortunately for them, several of Baltimore’s Catholic soup kitchens remain in operation, albeit with closed dining rooms and “grab-and-go” arrangements, a response to government orders to close bars and restaurants and recommendations to limit the number of people in one space.

Since June 1, 1981, Our Daily Bread has served a meal for those in need from several locations, starting at the rectory of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in more recent decades at the Our Daily Bread Employment Center on the Fallsway, the signature location of Catholic Charities of Baltimore.

Lee Martin, a program director there, spoke to the Review March 17, a few hours after Our Daily Bread had served its last meal, for now, in its dining room. Even before that, service was restricted.

“Normally, we can sit 108 people at a time,” Martin said, of a service that on a typical day averages 700 meals served. “We limited that to 72 seats, and then 36 (before closing it). We’re not sure when the dining room will reopen, but we’re going to continue our meal program.

“When we knew the pandemic was going to happen, one of the first decisions the agency made was to do everything in its power to continue the meal program. We’ve never missed a meal in 39 years, even through challenges like ‘Snowmageddon,’” Martin said, referring to a February 2010 blizzard that brought most of Maryland to a halt.

Pre-packaged meals are being distributed from Our Daily Bread, with staff, Martin said, “monitoring lines to ensure social distancing.”

“It’s difficult, because these are public sidewalks. We’re asking (guests) to take the food and eat it elsewhere,” added Martin, a graduate of Calvert Hall College High School in Towson and parishioner of New All Saints in Liberty Heights.

Beginning March 18, Our Daily Bread was ordering volunteers to stay home. Asked if it still needed food donations, Martin said, “We’re still in need of casserole donations. That’s a big assistance to us. Any monetary or food donation is going to help us.”

Those wanting to make monetary or food donations can visit catholiccharities-md.org/covid19.

Work goes on at the Franciscan Center of Baltimore despite no longer offering dine-in service because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy the Franciscan Center of Baltimore)

At the Franciscan Center, which “provides emergency assistance and supportive outreach to persons who are economically disadvantaged,” executive director Jeffrey Griffin and his staff have taken similar measures at their mission on West 23rd Street.

Founded by the Franciscan Sisters, the agency has set up a similar grab-and-go meal operation, maintained its mail drop for more than 400 people and added three portable toilets, among other adjustments.

“We do a lot under one roof,” Griffin said on Facebook Live March 17. “We have a calling to be there for our neighbors in need throughout this crisis situation.”
Its St. Patrick’s Day meal, prepared by chef Steve Allbright and crew for more than 350, was corned beef and cabbage. It plans to continue lunch service on weekdays, and provide dinner to its community on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Griffin made a plea for monetary donations; sandwich bread; bottled water; foodstuffs for its pantry; and “to-go containers, so we can serve a hot meal a couple times a week.”

“If you own a restaurant and are closed, please consider donating your food to us,” said Griffin, who asked anyone looking to help to email volunteer@fbcmoreorg.

On March 16, the Franciscan Center prepared 400 lunch bags for the students of Matthew A. Henson Elementary School in Coppin Heights, where most are reliant upon government meal programs. Distribution was at the Easterwood/Sandtown Park and Playground.

Email Paul McMullen at pmcmullen@catholicreview.org

Copyright ©2020 Catholic Review Media.



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