U-Haul offers free space for local food bank

Feed St. Mary’s, in public-private partnerships with social services stakeholders, faith- and community-based organizations and government agencies, is opening the county’s first food bank at a U-Haul facility on Great Mills Road, anticipated to open this year.

St. Mary’s County will be getting a food bank soon, thanks to a community effort spearheaded by Feed St. Mary’s and the Lexington Park Rotary Club.

Per a recent contract with the U-Haul business in Lexington Park, Feed St. Mary’s has acquired warehouse space to establish the food bank, which will store food for distribution to the county’s 15 food pantries.

“The goal was to form this broad public-private partnership with the food pantries, with community organizations, with government agencies,” Linda Lymas, president of the Feed St. Mary’s board, said.

“This coming together of people in the community … has really helped move [the project] forward. All credit to the community,” she said.

Feed St. Mary’s, established by members of the Lexington Park Rotary Club in partnership with social services stakeholders, faith- and community-based organizations and government agencies, has been working to establish a food bank here since 2017. Currently St. Mary’s food pantries rely on banks as far away as Hughesville and Prince Frederick, or private donations and grocery stores.

While interviewing food pantry managers around the county to assess the need for a food bank, Lymas said she heard similar concerns — food pantries would benefit from a closer food storage center, and “the other thing we heard was [what kind of] food was available … food storage, refrigeration, freezer issues came up.”

Lymas added, “Thanks to a rotary grant, Feed St. Mary’s will be able to purchase a freezer, so [meats] won’t be a problem waiting for delivery.”

U-Haul will be leasing out 3,000 square feet of space at its location along Great Mills Road for the food bank in its climate-controlled warehouse at no rental or utilities costs to Feed St. Mary’s for five years, Patrick Goodwin, district vice president for U-Haul, said.

“I had space in our facility and I had an opportunity where I could help out, and U-Haul could get out within the community,” Goodwin said Thursday. “It was a great opportunity to become part of the community and help enrich the area and fulfill a service and a need that they had kind of been searching for a place to do for quite awhile. It was something we could jump in and be part of the community with.”

Goodwin said the partnership was initiated after Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) reached out to the moving company.

“Hewitt was able to get us to the table to negotiate, to talk to U-Haul about space” at the site that used to be a grocery, Lymas said.

“This is a good opportunity for the county to be in a partnership with our community groups, our service groups … being able to put together a type of partnership that benefits the community as a whole,” Hewitt said.

The deal with U-Haul is “quite a good deal for the food bank. and it services a need. We’ve got a lot of people here who are hungry and that part of the county is probably in its greatest need,” he said.

Deliberations over a partnership with Maryland Food Bank are in the works, Lymas said. The state nonprofit will provide the foods to the local warehouse, she said.

“Our food pantries will have the autonomy to actually see a list of food items available to them,” Lymas said. “Meat, other forms of healthy proteins … you name it, they will have those options. The pantries will place the order and that food will be delivered to Feed St. Mary’s’ food bank in St. Mary’s County probably within a couple of days.”

To fund the food bank, Feed St. Mary’s solicited roughly $80,000 in grants and donations, Lymas said. The Lexington Park Rotary Club donated $50,000.

“We are bringing all of this together, we are trying to operate as a connected route to service the needs of individuals in our county who are living in poverty,” Lymas said.

The group explored potential sites throughout the county, but was looking for at least a 3,000-square-foot, climate-controlled building at a reasonable cost. “Food insecurity exists all over the county. … We were looking at those areas where we have limited pantries or no pantries at all,” Lymas said. “But there’s a need in [Lexington Park],” she said, noting the five Title I schools, which have a high percent of children living in low-income families, in the county are nearby.

In some local districts, “more than 35% of families are eligible for some form of federal assistance,” according to feedstmarys.org.

Lymas said the group is looking for a warehouse manager for when the bank opens, and, “We are looking for volunteers, as many as we can.”

She said the group intends to work with the Charlotte Hall and Leonardtown rotary clubs to explore other sites in those areas in later years. She hopes the bank will be open for business by the end of September, but the warehouse still needs to undergo inspection, she said.

Twitter: @TaylorEntNews

Twitter: @TaylorEntNews