Addressing Food Insecurity in Carroll County: A Conversation with CEO, Stephanie Halley

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We are delighted to share that our CEO, Stephanie Halley, recently had the opportunity to discuss pressing issues of food insecurity in Carroll County on WTTR Radio Station. During this insightful conversation, Stephanie highlighted the urgent needs of our community, especially during the challenging summer months when food insecurity often spikes.

In her interview, Stephanie delved into the critical work being done by the Westminster Rescue Mission’s Food Program. Our mission is dedicated to alleviating hunger and providing essential resources to those in need throughout Carroll County.

Feeding Carroll Together: A Community Initiative

One of the key initiatives Stephanie discussed is Feeding Carroll Together. This initiative is a cornerstone of our efforts to combat food insecurity. By partnering with local organizations, volunteers, and donors, we are able to distribute nutritious food to families and individuals who are struggling to make ends meet.

Feeding Carroll Together is more than just a food distribution program; it’s a comprehensive community effort. Our aim is to create a supportive network that ensures no one in our community goes hungry. Through this initiative, we provide fresh produce, pantry staples, and other essential items to those in need.

Our Impact and Resources

At the Westminster Rescue Mission, we are proud of the impact we have made in our community and beyond. Our Food Program has been instrumental in providing much-needed relief to countless families. From regular food distributions to our Carroll County Free Food Resource Guide, we strive to be a beacon of hope for those facing food insecurity.

We encourage you to explore the various links on our website to learn more about our programs and initiatives. Here, you will find detailed information about:

Join Us in Making a Difference

We believe that together, we can create a community where everyone has access to the food and resources they need to thrive. Your support is crucial in helping us achieve this goal. Whether through volunteering, donating, or spreading the word, every effort makes a significant impact.

Thank you for being a part of our journey to end hunger and support our neighbors in need. Together, we can make a lasting difference.




WTTR Radio Transcript:

Good morning. Welcome to the community briefing. This is Donna Jean. And today I’m here with Stephanie Haley, who is the CEO of the Westminster Rescue Mission, which is the home of the Mission Food Program and the Addiction Healing Center. And we’re going to be talking about food and insecurity today and letting the community know a little bit more about what you do and what goes on here.

So, so let’s start off kind of just with some basic information. Let’s explain what food insecurity is. Food insecurity, that’s a great question. Lots of folks are wondering what food insecurity is. It’s when a household, a family, they don’t have enough nutritious food to be able to make ends meet.

Right? So there’s not enough food or nutritious food to have a healthful diet. It doesn’t mean necessarily that they have no food. They may have food, but it may not be the right kind of food or they may be uncertain if they’re gonna have their next meal. Right?

So lots of folks, you know, I know that if I’m gonna go grocery shopping, I know I can plan out my meals for the next week, but not everybody has that luxury, quite honestly. There are folks who aren’t sure if they’re gonna be able to make meals tomorrow. And so they have to make choices. Am I gonna get medicine, or am I gonna get more food? Or if I have 5 people in my household, maybe I as the parent won’t eat so that my kids can eat.

I have to decide which which one I’m gonna do or maybe we’ll skip some meals. You know, I’m not gonna eat lunch today because I can’t afford it, so I’ll just wait and I’ll have dinner. So sometimes it doesn’t mean there is no food. You may have some food, but not enough, and you’re not sure necessarily whether you’re gonna have food or not. I’ve heard the phrase food insecurity sometimes, and I wasn’t really sure what the definition was.

I’m sure that’s helpful to people. Is food insecurity an issue in Carroll County? Yeah. We we live in a beautiful place. We love Carroll County.

I love Carroll County. We live in this wonderful environment where we have farms. We get to see plenty. We get to see the corn growing. We’re coming up on summer.

We are in summer, and we get to see the corn growing, the strawberries, the, you know, all this great fresh produce. And and so we tend some folks tend to think, you know, it’s not really an issue here. If you compare us to other locations even even within Maryland, we tend to look like a, you know, financially speaking, We we look like, you know what? They’re doing okay over there. They probably don’t have these problems.

But if you dig down a little bit deeper, the truth is that there’s a lot of disparity. So there is plenty in Carroll County, and there are folks who don’t have enough. And so and and that’s that’s true kind of financially, but it also it has to do really with our geography. So there there are pockets of Carroll County where folks are doing really well, and then there are other places that are functionally food deserts. Right?

So people may not have a grocery store nearby that they can get to. In rural areas, which Carroll County is, you can have trouble getting around. Right? Transportation. If you don’t have a reliable vehicle, it’s hard to get around.

And so it’s not as easy for everybody to quick run to the grocery store across town. In those places, it’s it’s more difficult to get to food. So it really it really is a problem here in Carroll County. And and, you know, it’s it’s when we talk about food security, yes, it’s for folks living in the poverty level, but, you know, the United Way, who’s a great partner of ours, they have data that talks about what they call the Alice population, and Alice, like the name, right, stands for asset limited, income constrained and employed. So what is this?

This is folks who work, but they’re they’re not really making enough to make ends meet. And so that’s folks who are above the poverty line, but still aren’t able to pay for the medicine and the food and pay for every meal, etcetera. So there are quite a number of folks who live here in Carroll County who fall both either the poverty or under the poverty line or just above the poverty line in that Alice population. So we definitely we definitely, definitely see that here in Carroll County, and, again, more so in some areas than others. So for example, in Union Bridge.

Union Bridge is one of our areas where there is significant need. So 61% of residents in in Union Bridge are below the Alice level. That’s a lot. That’s a whole lot. So, yes, there are other places where that’s not the case, but there are pockets where there’s a good bit of food insecurity.

And as I say, Union Bridge doesn’t really have a grocery store Exactly. Or something Exactly. People can get something quickly. Exactly. So Union Bridge is one of those areas that we would call a functional food desert.

Right? They’re about 7 or 8 miles from the closest full service grocery store. That’s a that’s a that’s a lot that’s a lot to walk if you don’t have. Yeah. If you and it’s a lot to walk and it’s a lot to haul your groceries if you don’t have reliable transportation.

So how are some of the other parts of Carroll County doing? So, you know, we talk about Union Bridge and that kind of high number of folks who are below that Alice level, But even when you look at comparatively wealthier sections of the county, particularly in the southern ends of the county, even there there are still approximately 20% of households that live below that Alice level and they’re struggling to make ends meet. So even in the wealthiest sections, that 20% is a good number of people. Right? 1 out of every 5 people, that you’re crossing on, you know, that you’re passing on the street are struggling even in those wealthier areas.

So what is the Mission Food Program at the Westminster Rescue Mission and who are you? So, you know, it’s interesting when folks come to visit us here at the mission. Oftentimes, if we take them on a tour and show them what we’re doing, the response that we get is almost always, I had no idea. I had no idea that’s what you guys did over there. So the truth is we’ve been here at the mission.

We’ve been, you know, helping our neighbors, you know, put food on the table for years years. We’ve been around since 1968. Quite honestly, in in one form or another, we’ve been feeding folks since then. But over time, we developed our own pantry and people came here and shopped at the mission for their for their groceries, and we were able to provide that service. But in recent years, what we what we did is we took a step back and said, you know, there are lots of us who are trying to feed hungry folks in our county, and and, you know, that’s one of the wonderful things about being in Carroll County.

We have so many great people who are out there trying to make a difference. And sometimes when lots of great people are trying to make a difference, you stumble on each other sometimes. Right? And you’re all you say, wait a minute, we’re doing that same thing over here. And so what if we took a step back and said, you know, if we’re all doing this great work, why is the need still getting bigger, Right?

The numbers are growing. More people are showing up for food. We’re giving out to more people than we ever had and more pounds of food than we ever had before, and yet the problem isn’t going away. And so we, as a mission said, you know what? We’re not necessarily just gonna have be be the the grocery store where folks shop.

We have a number of those across the county, but what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna work with businesses, restaurants, grocery stores, folks like the Maryland Food Bank, United Way, Feeding America to be able to source as much food as possible and healthier food. So it’s not just the leftovers that people are given into the pantry, but that we’re taking a look at, you know, how can we source more produce, more proteins, more dairy so that people have choices and they have healthier choices. So we don’t run a pantry like we used to. What we do is we work with dozens of our partners who are running pantries throughout the county, and we get the food and we stock their shelves so they can open their doors and feed their neighbors. And by doing this, we we can help to be a part of the equitable distribution of food across the county.

So when there are areas that are those functional food deserts and people aren’t getting enough food, we can say, oh, my gosh. You know what? A lot of this food is being given away in Westminster, but there’s a lot of need over here in this other area, so we can help get some of that food to that area that has greater need. And so really, that’s more that’s more along the lines of what we’re doing today. The other thing that we do other than just kind of sourcing and distributing food is we are we’re bringing people together.

So just the other day, we had a meeting in Hampstead with some of our partners there, NESAP and the Little Free Pantry in Hampstead and some other folks and we brought everybody together and said, you know, who’s doing what and when and how do we work together more effectively. And so we’re doing a lot of that kind of facilitating the conversations and taking a look at how we all work together more effectively so that we’re not just giving away more food and counting more people, but we’re really trying to get folks out of poverty and look at, you know, other types of supported services and things that can help folks so that they’re not current, you know, that they don’t continue to be food insecure. I’ll give you a couple examples of how we do that. So just this summer, we, along with all of our partners, launched the Feeding Carol campaign. And so that is an effort to stock the shelves of your local pantry.

So we have this free resource guide that basically you can go online. It’s on our website. You can go online and you can look up where wherever there is free food being given in Carroll County, it should be on that guide. You can look it up by area. So if you’re in Finksburg, if you’re in if you’re in Westminster, wherever you are, you can look that up and you’ll see where can I get a meal?

It includes soup kitchens. It includes, you know, pantries of different types, mobile food giveaways, you know, that are being done across the county. You can also you know, if it’s a Tuesday and you don’t know where to get food, you can look it up by Tuesday, and it’ll tell you where to get food. So we put our resources into gathering that information and keeping it up to date, and then using that to get the word out to the community. If they’re trying to help be a part of the solution, they can take their goods directly to that closest food pantry to them and stock their shelves.

So we’re helping to get that word out. In order to fund some of that work, that that work and, you know, the other work that we do, through the food program this summer, we are the mission is doing our plates of plenty campaign, which includes this interview right here to to raise awareness about food and security in Carroll County and to raise money to help us source and and to deliver that quality nutritious food to that network of pantries. So we’re doing a multimedia awareness campaign, and our main event will be a pilot program with a handful of partner restaurants in July. So diners at those restaurants will be able to learn a little bit about plates a plenty and the work that the food program does, and then they can purchase a plate. Right?

So, you know, they’re buying their meal and, you know, their kid’s meal, and they can buy another meal. Right? And it’s they’re not really purchasing a plate. They’re not gonna bring that plate to your table that you have to deliver anywhere. But it’s a donation, not a physical plate.

But you can add that on to your tab, and then that will go directly into us and and that network of pantry partners. That’s a fun idea. Yeah. I think people would like that. Who does who doesn’t like to who doesn’t like to go out to eat?

Right? Right. And if we all kind of took a moment when we were whether it’s when we’re grocery shopping or when we’re going out to eat and spending that extra money, right, on food, to think about those folks who are struggling to to to put anything on the table. And so it’s really an easy way for us to just say, yep, I’m gonna purchase that, and that’ll help somebody make those ends. Okay.

So big question. Why now? What’s what’s triggering this big need right now? You know, when people think about food, people think about food. I don’t know.

Thanksgiving over the holiday season. Right? That’s when people that’s actually when our pantries are probably stocked the fullest because people people know. Right? People wanna make sure people have that Thanksgiving dinner or that they have meals around the holiday time.

But, really, summer is actually the hungriest time of the year. And, I mean, if you think about it, you know, a number of our kids are in school the rest of the year, and a lot of them are getting 1 or 2 meals a day at school. And, actually, in our public school system, more than 27% of Carroll County public school systems receive free or reduced lunches at school. So if you take a few months out of the year and those free meals are gone, now you’ve got I mean, if you have a family of 4 or 5, a couple, 2, 3 of those kids, now you’ve gotta pay for those meals during the summer months. That money that’s already hard to stretch is now stretched even further.

And so there’s a greater need and those pantries, people are visiting the pantries more often, which means even those folks who don’t have anybody in school. So like our elderly folks who now their pantries aren’t as stocked because somebody else is grabbing that food before they get there. And so, this is a really important time for us to remember, you know, our our neighbors, our friends who are who are struck. What can local residents do to help? So a couple of things come to mind.

One, Feeding Carol Together campaign. You can donate food to your local pantry. If you don’t know where that is, you can go to the website feeding carol together dot org and kind of click on there, and you’ll be able to see where the are and find the closest one. And taking food that they need to them, that’s number 1. 1st and foremost, what you can do.

Secondly, I mentioned that plates of plenty campaign. Learn a little bit about food and security and financially support the Mission Food Program’s efforts to source and deliver food to pantries all across this county. So go out to eat is the other thing and think of your neighbors when you do that. That’s what I would say for the individual who wants to get involved. Certainly, you can always call the mission and volunteer, and I would say you could do that as an individual or also, you know, if you’re a business.

So if you’re a business owner, you know, lots of businesses come to us because they want to volunteer together. Right? They wanna take a day and come pack food or help us to deliver food or hand out food at one of our distributions. That’s a great team building exercise, really, but also just a way to give back and feel good at the end of the day. And so maybe a little sore at the end of the day, but but feel good about what you’ve acon exactly.

Feel good about what you’ve been able to accomplish. And quick question. The the restaurants that are participating in your plates of plenty Yes. Will that be present when you walk in the restaurant and you’re ordering your lunch or dinner? How will people know that those are the restaurants that are participating?

You will definitely know. So when you go in, there will be visuals. Right? There’s gonna and you’ll be able to see, oh, this is one of those plates of plenty restaurants, and it’ll give you instructions about how to how to purchase that meal or how to make a donation. We’ll also about how to how to purchase that meal or how to make a donation.

We’ll also be, you know, spreading the word around town. Certainly, you can always go on our Facebook page or our Instagram, and it’ll list all those restaurants that are that are gonna be participating. Great question. So how can some local businesses get involved and help with this with this summertime problem? So I mentioned volunteering.

It’s always great for businesses to, you know, bring their folks here to volunteer and help be a part of that. Those food solutions, you can do food drives. Right? So that’s a easy thing. You know, put some boxes out in your front lobby and tell folks that you’re collecting for your local your local food pantry.

And I would say get some pointers from your local food pantry about what kinds of food that they want because there are certainly things that are needed. Oftentimes, pantries get left over, people go through their pantries and say, what’s almost expired? Let’s probably not do that, but there are lots of good pointers from your local pantries about what to donate. And the other thing, of course, financial support. Dollars go a long way as I’m you know, people like to donate food, and you don’t get meat donated or proteins donated a lot, and so we have to purchase.

So those financial donations are are incredibly helpful. What is the the long term goal for this Mission Food Program? Which you kind of have said, but do you wanna add anything to that? Well, you know, the long term goal is that our neighbors aren’t hungry and our neighbors know where their next meal is coming from. And not just that we’re giving out so much food that that’s possible, but that we are helping them to get out of poverty.

Right? We’re helping them, You know, we’re there as a safety net. Right? We’re there to help when folks are having hard times, but also we are working with our friends and neighbors in the community to be able to to help to help lift them out of poverty so that they can be food secure and, you know, have energy and be able to concentrate and be able to make it to work and not be so worried about where they’re gonna get their next meal. And are there any other takeaways you just wanna mention?

Well, I I will just say since we’ve kind of been growing our work, it’s just great to work in Carroll County. You know, we have a lot of people who are a part of the solution. It’s not just the mission food program that’s solving a problem. It is, you know, us working along with so many other partners. And and some of those are nonprofits, some of those are churches, some of those are businesses or individuals.

We just have a lot of great people in this community, and so I truly believe there’s there’s nothing that we’re not gonna be able to do. There’s not a problem we can’t solve if we’re working with our neighbors, and we’re grateful to be we’re grateful to be doing that when it comes to food security. And, again, if anybody wants to find out more information about Carroll County Food Pantry Mhmm. The the resource guide or the plates of plenty program this summer, All that information is, I assume, on your Facebook, on your website and all that kind of stuff. So it’s easily accessible.

Absolutely. Westminster Rescue Mission dotorg is our Web site, and all of those resources are available through that. Great. Well, let’s hope we can solve this problem. Thanks for being with me today and giving me a chance to share a little bit about food security in Carroll County.

Again, so if you’re interested in finding out any more information about any of the food pantry programs or the summer plate summer program, just visit their Facebook page or their website.