The Franciscan Center of Baltimore has more than tripled the number of people it feeds during the coronavirus pandemic and expects those numbers to keep climbing as more people experiencing poverty or homelessness struggle with access to food.
Jeffrey Griffin, executive director, said the Franciscan Center is now averaging about 1,400 meals a day – up from about 350 prior to the pandemic. The outreach organization hit a high point April 20 of 3,568 meals served that day.
“That’s a number that we would never, ever dream of getting to,” Griffin said.
Several hundred hot meals are served daily at the center, with clients picking them up outside the building in a “grab-and-go” fashion to prevent the spread of the virus. The rest are delivered to those in need throughout the city, including eight senior community homes.
The Franciscan Center is distributing pantry bags in every district in the city, Griffin said.
“Since April 9, the National Guard has been helping us,” he said. “We have 10-12 soldiers with us every day, helping us to make pantry bags and they do most of the deliveries in four or five of their vehicles.”
Two social workers from the Franciscan Center go on deliveries to have conversations with clients, Griffin said. The organization also makes wellness calls to check in on those it serves.
Griffin noted that the city office on homeless services has asked the Franciscan Center to help provide meals to 50 people who live in a homeless encampment in southwest Baltimore.
The Catholic outreach organization has also started working with new, unexpected partners. That includes advocacy groups for those who aid street workers, the families of young adults who work selling goods or services on the street and transgendered and gay homeless people.
“It’s a lot of people who we never really had a relationship with who are coming to us every day asking for help,” he said.
The executive director said the Franciscan Center is reaching out to pastors throughout Baltimore City and asking if they need backup support for their local pantries.
“We know that so often, it’s the churches that are the first line for families that are experiencing tough situations,” Griffin said.
The NFL, through its Inspire Change platform and the Players Coalition, made a $50,000 donation to the Franciscan Center April 20 as part of a $3.05 million award to aid organizations in seven cities hard hit by the pandemic.
Griffin said the Franciscan Center was chosen because Anquan Boldin, a former wide receiver with the Baltimore Ravens, learned of the organization’s work through his relationship with Baltimore City Councilman Robert Stokes.
Boldin is the Players Coalition co-founder and serves on the Player-Owner Social Justice Working Group.
“We know that during this difficult time, our minority and low-income communities are struggling disproportionately with the impact of COVID-19,” Boldin said in an April 20 statement. “Communities in Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore and more are getting hit hard right now, and we want to do our part in ensuring these areas have even the basic needs. We are glad we can partner with the NFL to support the organizations that are on the ground providing for these families.”
Griffin noted that some of the Franciscan Center’s services, including a barbershop and a clothing center, have been suspended because of the virus.
“The good news is that a year and a half ago, we invested in Wi-Fi throughout the whole center,” he said. “At the same time, we paid extra to have that frequency turned up so if you are on the sidewalk next to the building, you have access to free Wi-F. We are constantly told, ‘Thank you,’ for that service.”
Griffin said many of the people served by the Franciscan Center are fearful that they or their loved ones will contract the virus.
“If we can take the stress off of not knowing where your next meal is, then that’s at least one thing we can do to help someone,” he said. “That’s why we are going heavy into pantry bags. We’re trying to get matching grants to provide even more bags to those who need them.”
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Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org.