Everything changed in the six months between November 2019, when grant writer Michael Bernstein hit submit on Nourish Now’s Many Hands grant application, and May 2020, when Brett Meyers learned in a late-night call that the food recovery organization he founded in 2011 had received Many Hands’ $100,000 Impact Grant.
Pre-COVID, Nourish Now focused on recovering surplus fresh food from grocers, caterers, restaurants, and other donors and repackaging and donating it directly to neighbors in need in Montgomery County, MD, and throughout the DC metropolitan area. Through Nourish Now’s Families First and Healthy S.N.A.C.K. programs, the latter run in cooperation with Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), the Rockville-based nonprofit provided a five-day supply of food to 400 families and healthy snacks to 2,000 MCPS students each week.
COVID forced Nourish Now to adapt their entire operation to meet the requirements of an unprecedented world. By mid-2020, the pandemic had led Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to declare a state of emergency and order all nonessential businesses and public schools to close. The number of people in the United States facing hunger dramatically increased as COVID-19 spread. It was projected that the need for food assistance in Montgomery County would rise more than 60%.
As restaurants, caterers, and other food service businesses shut down indefinitely, the prospects for food recovery dwindled. However, county funding and support from the general public helped Nourish Now smoothly transition to providing Family Relief Boxes to families in need. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, Nourish Now served 2,600 families per week, representing a more than six-fold increase.
When Meyers took the call from Many Hands that Thursday night in May 2020, he was working in Nourish Now’s new off-site distribution packaging warehouse on Howard Avenue. The Howard Avenue warehouse more than doubled Nourish Now’s square footage, but as the services Nourish Now provided continued to grow, so did its need for space. To take just one example, in order to store the 20 pallets of donated milk Nourish Now received weekly, the organization had to rent additional cold storage in the form of a large outdoor truck/trailer.
Through a grant from the state of Maryland, Nourish Now received funding to build out a new facility on East Gude Drive that Meyers describes as “a dream food recovery center that at its core will help Montgomery County and the state of Maryland work towards the ultimate long-term goals of a hunger-free and food waste-free Maryland.” As he explains, “Food recovery not only helps end hunger, but it also improves the overall environment and the air we breathe.” By preventing fresh food from ending up in landfills and breaking down, Nourish Now disrupts the production of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Nourish Now plans to move to the new facility in April, and the team is excited that opportunities for fresh food recovery have begun to resurface as the country continues to open up from the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. But even in the pandemic, Meyers finds reason for hope. As he explains, “The pandemic has shown that the organizing of people and community can bring positive change and help many people rise above tough unpredictable challenges that may be faced. A perfect example of this was receiving the Many Hands Impact Grant.”
To learn more about Nourish Now and how you can support their work as a donor and/or volunteer, please visit nourishnow.org.