SUDLERSVILLE — Elizabeth Miller, a licensed clinical social worker and program coordinator for the Judy Center Early Learning Hub in Queen Anne’s County, has seen firsthand the perils of food insecurity in her clients.

For the food pantry located at Sudlersville Elementary School, getting contacted by the Maryland Food Bank five years ago was the beginning of serving the high number of children in the area that qualify for the free or reduced price meals.

Yet growing needs in Baltimore area food pantries meant more donations being diverted there instead of Eastern Shore food banks, including Sudlersville.

“We knew that our children had the need during the day and then during the weekend and on breaks from school,” Miller said. “We’ve taken on other projects to feed children beyond just having the emergency food pantry, and the one thing I’m proud of is seeing the growth of the program.”

Though the program was initially established for only students, Miller soon saw that hunger was a factor off school hours as well. After completing the training by the Maryland Food Bank to expand services, a summer food program was started for children of all ages providing two meals a day.

More mouths to feed meant more space needed or donations, and thus the food pantry at Sudlersville Middle School was also established with the assistance of the Maryland Food Bank.

“The beauty of the school pantry is we’re meeting and getting to know the parents as they work in the community and they get comfortable to ask us for help. If we can’t, we can refer them to our neighboring church partners. After a while, we know their needs,” said Miller.

According to Miller, food insecurity with a student is often a sign of the same issue in an entire family. Thus, the backpack program was established to provide selected students with meals for outside of school. A backpack of food is prepared on Thursday evenings and sent home with the child on Friday.

A menu is sent to school’s food pantry where a wish list of sorts is compiled on the condition there is any left after other locations have been stocked. Drivers make the trek to pick up the orders once or twice a week.

Donated food is free to the two school pantries, but purchasing bulk orders to fill the same space costs an estimated $2,900.

The food shortage did not go unnoticed by BJ’s Wholesalers who paid for the most recent order. During October, the pantry at Sudlersville Elementary School alone fed 73 families. During Thanksgiving and the holidays, two large food drops are made to brace for the increased need.

“People assume that churches can handle all the responsibilities, but it takes everyone working together. So, we try to do our part, and there’s more need than more people would realize,” Miller said.

The pantries are available five days a week. Miller said the holidays present a special challenge with heating costs cutting into a families food budget.

Aside from local businesses, schools, farms and community organizations, county commissioners also provide financial assistance.

For more information on the Sudlersville Food Bank or to contact them to provide donations, call 410-438-3887. Food distribution occurs on holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and school breaks. Parents can also call to set up appointments and food can be delivered if transportation is an issue.

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