Pastor Marcus England of the Mix Church, at the start of the morning’s food distribution. Each box is packed with kale, carrots, celery, potatoes, apples, cauliflower and avocado. (Courtesy photo)

By J. K. Schmid
Special to the AFRO

Food security has troubled East and West Baltimore for years. Unemployment, collapsing wages and food deserts make securing healthy, affordable meals for minority communities harder and harder.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent economic shutdown combined with the demands of social distancing have made the crises of hunger and nutrition all the more acute.

Stepping in on behalf of the already disadvantaged and now struggling and starved communities are Baltimore churches and community centers. The work goes on as always, but the multi-billion dollar enterprise that is Johns Hopkins University (JHU) is leveraging its resources, human, political and financial capital to support workers and volunteers already in the ground.

“It’s a great relationship, their support,” Pastor Marcus England told the AFRO. “They really try to fulfill the needs of the community and to see how they can make an impact.”

Pastor England ministers to the Mix Church, a parish serving the area’s largely Latinx community surrounding Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“We are the hub for Johns Hopkins University, we get in about 650 boxes every week,” England told the AFRO. “We do meat boxes on Wednesday, and every other week we do produce boxes.”

The day England spoke with the AFRO was on a Thursday, which was produce day. The boxes were loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables: kale, carrots, celery, potatoes, apples, cauliflower and avocado.

“Out of the 650, we give out a good portion to other existing non-profits in the area,” England said. “Some are churches, some are community centers, that are helping to distribute these foods all around Baltimore.”

From here, the Mix will be visited by Club Colington, Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, First Apostlic and others to pick up their pallets of boxes of food.

The Mix has been doing this work since its establishment in 2015. Its congregation is approximately 400 parishioners. JHU and the Mix have been working together on the COVID food crisis since May, but have had many ongoing partnerships over the last two years. Originally planned to run 16 weeks, the program had been extended to run 20 weeks.

Between the produce, and meats and staples on alternating weeks, JHU counts 2,000 boxes out and into the community, and so, two million-plus meals all told.

“It’s a godsend for the community,” Denise Bell, a volunteer and parishioner said. “We have seniors, and we have a lot of young mothers, and they come for help, especially during the pandemic. People are not working, so there’s a food shortage, and the church has really helped.”

Each box is packed with kale, carrots, celery, potatoes, apples, cauliflower and avocado. (Courtesy Photo)

“Our pastor has a vision to do outreach all week,” Danielle, another volunteer, said.

“We’re going to continue with this and we’re just gonna leave it up to God to continue this partnership.”

“The camaraderie, with members of the community, we have other members of the co-op that volunteer, they come and help and work and we’re able to direct those who really need it to come and get help,” Bell said of what’s best about the program. “People are very self-conscious when they’re in need.”

Since the AFRO’s visit to The Mix Church, on what was ostensibly the last week of the program, JHU has extended the effort until mid-November.

“The need that caused us to really get into supporting communities around the issue of food, the topic of food, really hasn’t dissipated,” Alicia Wilson, JHU vice president for Economic Development said. “So, we recognize that this pandemic has lasted longer than any of us has thought, impacted us financially longer than any of us have imagined, and we know that as an institution, it’s impacted us and we know that has impacted our neighbors.”

“I give president Daniels a lot of credit,” Wilson said. “He took those days and made personal calls to community folks and asked them, ‘what do they need?’ during this time. And it really was in effort to not sort of think, in an ivory tower, what could we do that could be helpful or responsive, but really try to meet a real and felt need. And his call really set us on this path.”