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Community ramps up efforts to help neighbors –

by Terri Hogan

Senior Staff Writer

With resources spread thin during the coronavirus pandemic, local nonprofits are relying more than ever on the community to help them help others.

Under normal circumstances, Olney HELP relies on non-perishable food donations collected at local sites and stored in its pantry.

Volunteers supplement the donations by purchasing fresh foods for each client and delivering the food to the client’s home.

Since 1969, Olney HELP has provided short-term emergency food and financial assistance to individuals and families in Olney, Sandy Spring, Ashton, Brinklow and Brookeville.

But because the food collection sites are closed, and in an effort to limit the exposure of volunteers to food from many sources, the best way to provide assistance for Olney residents is by making a financial donation or purchasing gift cards to Harris Teeter, Giant Food or Safeway, Olney HELP leaders say.

Executive director Jacqui Vok said the arrangement is not ideal, since many of the organization’s clients do not drive or have cars, but it is the best way to help them at this time.

She said Olney HELP was starting to see a little bit of an uptick in client requests toward the end of March and was expecting that number to continue to rise.

Volunteers also may be needed to deliver food, Vok said, as many of the organization’s volunteers are older and considered to be in the “high-risk” group. While they are taking recommended precautions, some are nervous, she said.

“We are doing the best we can under the circumstances,” Vok said. “It’s extra work, but that is what we are here for.”

Ruth Filbert, Olney HELP pantry manager, thanks the community for its continued support.

“We understand that this is a stressful time for many, but it is even more stressful for the most vulnerable in our community,” she said.


Manna expects to see increase in requests for help


While Olney HELP focuses on local families, Manna Food Center, based in Fairland, has a larger focus, with a mission to eliminate hunger in Montgomery County.

Samantha Miller, Manna spokeswoman, said the organization has seen a slight increase in participant scheduling in the second half of March, but no huge jumps, as of press time.

“Based on our experience serving people in times of economic crisis, we expect to see an increase in requests for food assistance over the coming months, as the full impact of unemployment takes its toll on families,” she said. “We are using the delay to increase our capacity and to adapt our distribution processes in ways that enable us to continue safely serving as many neighbors as possible.”

Miller said Manna has waived income requirements so that any Montgomery County resident affected by COVID-19 is now eligible to receive food. Its distribution sites are operating with new procedures to allow for social distancing and additional sanitation. All sites are providing pre-packed boxes/bags.

“In order to prevent lines or crowds forming, participants may be asked to specify an arrival time when they schedule their pickup,” she said. “Depending on the location, our staff may direct participants to remain in their vehicle or may provide them with a number to be called. IDs will be checked by our staff, but they will not be handling them.”

Miller said Manna is communicating regularly with the community at www.mannafood.org/covidresponse/, as well as on its social media platforms.

The best ways to support Manna are by donating money and food, and by signing up to volunteer.

“Many of our regular volunteers are choosing to stay home for a range of reasons,” Miller said. “For all of them it has been a difficult choice to not come. We have received a lot of interest from new volunteers — those that want to help during this health crisis and those that are finding they have more time available as they are not working. These volunteers are helping to step in where there are shortages.”


First responders need help now ‘more than ever’


Local first responders such as the Montgomery County Police Department’s 4th District and Sandy Spring Volunteer Fire Department (SSVFD) say the community can help by donating supplies.

Lt. Oneil Ormsby, deputy commander of the 4th District Station, said his district needs masks, hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes.

Brendan Bonita, SSVFD battalion chief, said the fire department also needs face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, and thanks those who have already made donations.

“We currently have some supplies on hand; however, we do not know about the future,” he said at press time. “There is a major national shortage, which affects everyone including us.”

The Greater Olney Civic Association (GOCA) had coordinated a collection of items requested by local police and the fire department, specifically face masks (especially N95), hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, on March 26, and will continue to help collect items.

“We need to support our first responders now more than ever,” Matt Quinn, GOCA president, said.


    To help any of the agencies and organizations in this story, visit:

    Sandy Spring Volunteer Fire Department at [email protected] for drop off information.

    Greater Olney Civic Association at www.goca.org or Matt Quinn, president, at [email protected].

    Olney HELP at www.olneyhelp.org. Financial donations may be made online or by mailing a check to Olney HELP, P.O. Box 430, Olney, MD 20830. To donate a gift card, contact Ruth Filbert, pantry manager, at 301-774-6829.

    Manna Food Center at www.mannafood.org/volunteer-with-us/.

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