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County Council mulls plans to reduce hunger

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ROCKVILLE – Two years ago, Andy Burness volunteered with the Food Recovery Network to drop off food to a local women’s shelter.

Burness and the group of volunteers arrived with 25 large plastic bins full of food to drop off, but upon arrival, there were already six full bins of food sitting on the kitchen counter.

“We didn’t know what to do,” said Burness, chair of Montgomery County Security Collaborative. “How can you bring fresh delicious food to a shelter and take it back? But conversely, how can you leave that food for the women in the shelter knowing most of it will go to waste?”

On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council heard testimony on Bill 19-16, which proposes the County develop a five-year plan by Dec. 1 to tackle food insecurity. The Health and Human Services committee will review the bill June 23.

While Montgomery County is one of the wealthiest counties in Maryland, 77,780 residents in the County are still regularly underserved.

Bill 19-16 is sponsored by Council member Roger Berliner (D-1) and would require the County Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) to design a strategic plan to coordinator the county’s food banks and charities.

“It’s a bit of a plan to plan,” said Jackie DeCarlo executive director for Manna Food Center. “But what it does is, it says to the community, we need by December to know what the framework is going to be, what role we’re each going to play and what resources we need.”

The bill will require the County CIO to coordinator with County agencies such as Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Agriculture and Montgomery County Public Schools to research demographic information on poverty and hunger in the County.

The CIO will then use the data to develop a strategic countywide plan on hunger.

“It’s also bringing everybody together, so we’re not silent, so we can coordinate, so we have the data, so that we can bring the philanthropy in,” Berliner said.

People from non-profit organizations, which feed the County’s hungry, testified at Tuesday’s council meeting in support of Bill 19-16, saying the county needs to come up with a plan to help organize their efforts.

The goal of the bill is to reduce hunger in the County by 10 percent each year, during the five-year master plan.

“I think they really need to do the plan before they do the number, so it’s not putting the cart before the horse,” said Michael Wilson, director of Maryland Hunger Solution.

Wilson, who testified in favor of the bill at the meeting, said he is not sure whether reducing hunger in the County by 10 percent is too high or low because the County has yet to develop their strategic plan.

Berliner said the 10 percent number is supposed to serve as a guideline for the CIO while he is developing his plan and is not set in stone.

“It was just sort of a first cut at lets make something that’s serious but not overreaching,” said Berliner of the 10 percent goal.

@neal_earley

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