Mary Blocker gets emotional when reflecting back on this year.
“It’s been such a rewarding year,” Blocker said.
Mary and Larry Blocker founded a local branch of the nonprofit group Keep Us Fed. The organization mobilizes over 50 volunteers who collect food donations from grocery stores and restaurants seven days a week and deliver to nonprofit organizations serving food insecure Montgomery County residents.
Their work has been more important than ever in this year that has been rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As they prepare to close out 2020, they are also celebrating two major milestones for the group in December. Volunteers recovered over 1 million pounds of food donations in 2020 and 2.5 million pounds since the organization was founded in 2015.
“It’s been an exciting, uplifting experience during these troubling times,” Blocker said.
Volunteers pick up prepared, usable and excess food from restaurants, grocery stores and other donors. Then that food is immediately delivered to 30 recipient organizations across the county including food pantries, shelters, group homes, senior care organizations and youth services providers.
The nonprofit has also weathered the highs and lows of the pandemic much like the rest of the county, but the pandemic has never deterred them from their mission. They were declared an essential service from the start of the pandemic.
In the second half of the year, the nonprofit has experienced an influx of volunteers. When a volunteer was sidelined due to COVID-19 or quarantining, they were fortunate to have new volunteers available. She said the volunteers are using safety measures and try to remain as safe as possible while carrying out their mission.
She said the group has experienced growth all around – in the number of volunteers, in food donors, in recipients and the need in the community.
“The community has responded however was needed both on the recipient and donor side,” Blocker said.
They have also added a full-time staff member, Marissa Wolfe, who serves as the group’s volunteer coordinator. Technology has also allowed volunteers to distribute food more efficiently.
Food insecurity in Montgomery County has grown as the effects of COVID-19, unemployment and other factors have resulted in additional community need. Most recent estimates suggest more than 73,000 Montgomery County residents are food insecure, according to KUSF information.
This years’ food donation recovery is 71 percent ahead of last year’s amount. She said that’s been a consistent percentage for the past four months.
Larry and Mary Blocker report that the ability to take on more donors and the response of existing donors made increased food available just when it was needed most.
Their mission will roll on through the two holiday weeks. She said they only pause on Christmas Day when the stores are closed.
In 2021, they are also expecting several more donors to come on board and for an existing donor to offer more pick ups.
She said the additions will represent 30 percent in growth right off the bat in 2021.
They are always seeking new volunteers as well.
The best way to start is to shadow a current volunteer when they do a pick up. Then they request that the volunteer complete a food handler’s certification. It’s a 90-minute online course for $7. That certification lasts for two years. Any other needed supplies are provided by KUSF.
“The whole environment has been very encouraging. There have been hiccups, but nothing has been missed,” Blocker said. “It’s been so rewarding and so needed.”
Volunteer opportunities are available seven days a week and the typical amount of time required is 90 minutes. Visit www.keepsusfedmoco.org for more information or call 936-206-3604.