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by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
The shelves of the brand-new Olney HELP food pantry are stocked, allowing the non-profit organization to continue its mission of providing food and financial assistance to families in Olney, Ashton, Sandy Spring, Brookeville and Brinklow.
Olney HELP’s board of directors, along with the assistance of elected officials, cut the ribbon for the new facility on May 6 after the organization spent nearly two years in flux.
The organization operated its food pantry on the Marian Fathers property at 19100 Georgia Ave. from about 1970 to 2015, when Natelli Communities purchased the property to build a housing development.
After an exhaustive search, Olney HELP reached an agreement with Sandy Spring Volunteer Fire Department, which helped the nonprofit to secure a new location for the pantry.
Due to security concerns, the exact location of the pantry is kept confidential. No food is distributed from the pantry; Olney HELP volunteers deliver food directly to clients.
For nearly two years, the organization has stored its food in the homes of volunteers. Now, the food fills the neatly organized shelves in a 14- by 40-foot building that is brightly lit and climate controlled.
“Having heat and air-conditioning is vital for food storage, but nice for us working in here, too,” said assistant pantry manager Kathryn Murdock, who volunteers daily.
Also important is the stability of having a permanent home.
“After dealing with new routines and managing the storage of large quantities of food at peoples’ houses, we are thrilled,” said Jacqui Vok, Olney HELP executive director.
New shelves were built and shelves from the former building were reassembled by the trainees at Our House, a Brookeville-based job training center for at-risk young men.
“This is a great example of nonprofits helping each other to serve the community,” Vok said.
Olney HELP is supported by individuals, houses of worship, schools, businesses and community groups through food drives, cash donations and grants.
“These same entities also contributed generously to our building fund for the new pantry,” Vok said. “Others contributed in-kind donations, like the architectural building plan, gutters, concrete and its installation. Every contribution, no matter how large or small, has helped our entirely volunteer nonprofit build this new pantry to serve the needy in our own community.”
Vok said the organization is grateful to each donor who helped make the new pantry a reality.
“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” she said. “We have an amazingly supportive community. That’s why our logo includes the phrase ‘people helping people.’ It’s truly who we are in the greater Olney area.”
New leadership takes helm
Vok, an Olney resident, is Olney HELP’s new executive director.
She succeeds Marilyn Simonds, now the director emeritus. Simonds has been involved with Olney HELP for more than 25 years, serving as director for the past 14 years. She was instrumental in the opening of the new pantry, organization volunteers said.
Vok began volunteering with Olney HELP in 2015. She brings 16 years of experience as the director of a nonprofit allergy foundation.
Carrying on the legacy of helping others
Olney HELP was founded in 1969. It was formerly known as Olney Fish and was started by a group of Quakers and other area church members who donated funds and recruited volunteers.
The all-volunteer agency and has grown to include more than 40 volunteers, as increasing needs in the greater Olney area have developed.
“Olney HELP takes pride in our all-volunteer 501(c)(3) non-profit status and keeping our administrative costs to an absolute minimum so that your full donation can directly help our neighbors in need,” Vok said.
In 2016, Olney HELP fulfilled 490 requests for food, serving 1,025 adults and 734 children, and 228 requests for financial assistance, serving 365 adults and 315 children.
Those figures do not include Thanksgiving or holiday baskets provided to local families in need.
Requests for assistance will increase in the summer when children are out of school. Pantry manager Ruth Filbert said a complete list of items needed is available on the website at www.olnehelp.org, but immediate needs include canned meat, pasta sides and juices. Donations can be dropped off at collection boxes at Longwood Community Recreation Center and the Buffington Re/Max Building. Adult volunteer drivers also are needed to deliver food. To learn more, request help or make a financial donation, go to www.olneyhelp.org or call 301-774-4334.
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