Paul A. Tue, III, Lain Hawkridge, and CeCe Wilson assemble bags for elderly and children. Photo courtesy of SACRJ.

More than 150 volunteers from every corner of Kent County delivered 9,000 breakfast bags to children and 1,230 bags of groceries to seniors (including 300 prepared meals), plus they distributed 500 pizzas, 500 Easter baskets and 720 gallons of milk to the community. An additional 1,180 gallons of milk were shared with food distribution programs in Cecil and Queen Anne’s counties.

This all occurred in just five weeks after the Social Action Committee for Racial Justice (SACRJ) pledged to prevent children and elderly people from going hungry during the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to the 2800 hours of volunteer time, private donations amounting to $38,500 have also fueled the initiative.

SACRJ leaders say their effort will continue as long as necessary. Current resources will enable it to operate for 8 more weeks.

“It has been an unbelievable five weeks.” said Airlee Johnson, a founder of the Social Action Committee for Racial Justice. “Suddenly we had a hundred volunteers turning our food distribution sites into well-oiled machines under the leadership of volunteers like Tammy Rose, Shyra Blackson, Nina Newlin, Cece Wilson and Mary Jordan. And that’s not all. We had volunteers riding on Kent County Public School buses and knocking on doors to let people know about the meals available for children.”

“The school system has been a key partner as we helped to expand its reach when it was ramping up to provide food to students after the schools were closed. We launched four community sites to distribute school lunches, and then dinners, along with our breakfast bags,” Johnson added. “The community sites – Kent County Community Center, Millington Town Hall, Betterton Fire Hall and Baywood Village community room – were all made available to us the moment we called.”

Philip Dutton, former Co-Chair of SACRJ and a local musician said, “SACRJ’s food initiative was overwhelmingly supported by the Board of Directors of Sumner Hall, a local non-profit corporation. It immediately agreed to manage the project’s finances by setting up a dedicated account to support the purchase of produce from local farmers and other foods needed for the program.”

Larry Wilson, President of Sumner Hall, said, “Just as the founders of G. A. R. Post #25 provided services and financial assistance to the African American community in the 19th Century, we are pleased to honor their example by partnering with SACRJ today.”

Dutton also noted that the People’s Bank donated funds to the Community Food Pantry to facilitate non-perishable food deliveries from the Maryland Food Bank.

Paul Tue III, Co-Chair of SACRJ said that scores of individuals and many organizations donated cash or much-needed food. “We saw an outpouring of support for the community. One of the most incredible things that happened was when we got the call from Carol Schoonover from 22B Lions Club, offering to donate 15 tons of food from Sysco,” he said. “That food has gone a long way in our community, it has truly been the gift that keeps on giving.”

Lain Hawkridge, a member of SACRJ known to many in the county for his WKHS radio show, Musicology, has been managing the delivery system for seniors. “In addition to the volunteers at the sites and on buses, we have had 85 people who volunteered to deliver grocery bags to the 193 seniors we serve twice a week or to pick up produce from farms and move food from storage locations to deliver it to our distribution sites,” he said.

Arlene F. Lee, Co-Chair of SACRJ, said countless individuals and organizations made this all possible. “More than 40 organizations have partnered to support the SACRJ initiative, from the United Way and the Local Management Board to shops like the Chester River Wine & Cheese Co., businesses like KRM Development Corporation and Frank B. Rhodes Furniture Maker, clubs like the members of the Garden Club, mentoring programs like Rising Sons and more,” she said. “Plus, Magnolia Caterers and the Washington College Food Lab deliver fresh bread each week and the four chefs from Barbara’s on the Bay, The Kitchen, Fish Whistle at the Granary and Germaine’s are working together to produce prepared meals for our seniors. We are deeply grateful to each and every one of the partners, the donors and the volunteers.”

Rosemary Ramsey Granillo, Director of the Kent County Local Management Board, said COVID 19 has exposed the broad reach of food insecurity in Kent County. “By serving an average 700 students each day, we are reaching 65% of the 1,093 students eligible for Free and Reduced Meals at school, and the SARJ initiative has tripled the number of elderly receiving nutritional support in the county. This is an opportunity for agencies and neighbors to identify the extent of the need and respond with urgency and creativity.”

SACRJ leaders caution that the work is not yet done and the need is growing as unemployment rises. SACRJ’s Feed the Children and Elderly Initiative will continue for the foreseeable future with the goal of transitioning the breakfast bag distribution to Kent County Public Schools and the senior meal distribution to the Local Management Board for coordination of local agencies.
To learn more about this initiative, to donate food or to volunteer to help with the food distribution effort, email SACracialjustice@gmail.com. To make a financial donation, go to Sumner Hall’s website, www.sumnerhall.org, and click on the link to SACRJ Feed the Children and Elderly Initiative.

The Social Action Committee for Racial Justice formed in 2017 and now has 200+ members from the Kent County community. SACRJ is a community effort to learn, grow, and take action against racism in Kent County Maryland.

The focus is on identifying systemic racism and taking concrete steps to address inequities. SACRJ is a member driven, group centered organization. Member driven means that the organization supports actions that members want to make happen. Group centered means that the organization and its members hold racial justice front and center in each action, while consulting with the group and holding each other accountable – this approach is informed by the community organizing work led by Gloria Richardson’s leadership in Cambridge MD during the 1960’s.

For more details, contact Philip Dutton, sacracialjustice@gmail.com or call 410-417-7295.