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College Park Community Food Bank stands strong amid pandemic and holiday season

Article by freelancer Ava Castelli

Wearing her long black parka over a solid white sweatshirt, University of Maryland senior psychology major Gracie Powasnik slipped on a pair of latex gloves, readjusted her cloth mask and began to help organize the mountain of turkeys dropped off at the College Park Community Food Bank for Thanksgiving.    

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the food bank wasn’t as proactive in asking donors for specific types of food, other than sometimes putting requests out on Facebook, according to Lisa Bartusek, the vice president of the board at the College Park Community Food Bank. During the pandemic and now especially being in the swing of the holiday season, requests have been made more often for food such as turkeys, Bartusek said. 

This fall was Powasnik’s first semester volunteering at the food bank. She began mid-October as part of a project for the American Medical Student Association.

“We wanted to make sure everyone in College Park had a turkey, so we did a drive and collected over 200 turkeys, which helped a lot of families,” Powasnik said.

The food bank, founded in 2008 by the Church of the Nazarene and located in its parking lot, changed vastly as a result of the pandemic and current holiday season, ranging from the order of operation to the number of clientele. As more people suffered from food insecurity during the pandemic, the need for food increased along with the number of volunteers, Bartusek said.

Though the food bank’s hours of operation decreased to one day a week on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., their presence on social media increased as did its popularity, according to the food bank’s website. Before the pandemic, the food bank was serving an average of about 4,000 people, but during the past year, it has been hitting about 60,000, Bartusek said. 

This food bank stands out from others because it has no qualification requirements including residency, citizenship or economic status, Bartusek said. 

“If someone is showing up to the food bank, they probably need food,” Bartusek said.

Senior general biology major Maya Massary, also volunteered at the College Park Community Food Bank this semester for the first time, beginning last month. She, like Powasnik, attends every week to help set up the donations and has seen first hand the impact the pandemic has had on families needing food.

“A lot of families were probably unemployed or laid off because of the pandemic, so I think that the need for food in the area is a lot greater,” Massary said. “I also think getting food in a lot of ways is a bit harder due to supply chain shortages.” 

Both Massary and Powasnik have stated they intend on continuing their volunteering at the food bank throughout the remainder of the school year.

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