There’s no reason that any family should go hungry in Montgomery County, said Brett Meyers, executive director of Nourish Now. To help low-income families achieve total food security, the Rockville-based nonprofit recently launched its new Food with Dignity program that helps families coordinate with numerous nonprofits and agencies to make sure that they have food every day of the month.
Nourish Now is a food recovery organization that collects surplus food from caterers, restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses. Today the nonprofit serves 550 families and more than 60 nonprofits. Client families receive five days of food per month from Nourish Now—dry and canned goods, 10 pounds of produce, and prepared meals.
Meyers, a Kentlands resident, founded Nourish Now in 2011 “to use food recovery to end hunger in Montgomery County.” As manager for Panera Bread and Celebrity Deli, Meyers said that he saw a lot of food waste and wanted to do something about this.
He did some research and learned that 96 billion pounds—or 40 percent—of food is wasted each year in this country. At the same time, more than 50 million people throughout the United States suffer from food insecurity. “I thought, ‘Let’s put the two together,’” Meyers recalled.
“This was grassroots. I left my job of five years and started with nothing,” he said. “I was picking up from Panera Bread with my Honda Accord and delivering to shelters and apartment complexes. … I had no kitchen, so it had to be delivered right away.”
Since no one knew about his start-up nonprofit, Meyers couldn’t partner with local agencies and nonprofits at first. To find clients, he went to lower income apartment complexes in Gaithersburg, knocked on doors and asked residents if they knew of people who needed help. He also spoke to people at bus stops. Meyers said he found more than 100 families to serve this way.
Six months later the Universities at Shady Grove donated commercial kitchen space, which enabled Meyers to store food and serve more families. During this time he also was able to fundraise enough to move into Nourish Now’s current location in Rockville.
Then six months ago, Nourish Now took over the warehouse next door, doubling space to 2500 square feet. The nonprofit recently surpassed one million pounds of food donated.
“We have grown a lot,” Meyers said. “We’re serving more families.”
The new Food with Dignity program reflects this growth. “We wanted to see if the new program could make more of an impact on families’ lives,” Meyers said. Nourish Now develops a monthly plan with each family, drawing in other food nonprofits and agencies. “No family from Montgomery County has to suffer from food insecurity,” he stressed.
Nourish Now is also forging more partnerships with the schools. “We’re donating to Linkages to Learning,” Meyers said, “and bringing healthy snacks to schools.”
Eight staff members and many volunteers keep it all running. Tamica Hall, who is in charge of volunteers and project coordination, said that all ages and abilities are welcome to volunteer. Jobs are multifaceted, and all are able to contribute. For instance, Nourish Now’s youngest volunteers are six or seven years old, and at the warehouse they can bag produce, put cans in a box and make trail mix bags, Hall said.
Volunteers are needed Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Volunteers process deliveries when they come in, sort produce and compost what isn’t fresh, break full-size catering pans down into individual or family-size portions, inspect cans for dents and expiration dates, check bakery items for mold, and assist with making family boxes, Hall explained.
During the winter when Nourish Now typically sees a decline in donation of prepared foods from catered events, volunteers help with cooking projects. During the spring and summer, volunteers help with canned food drives.
Food donors also are needed. Nourish Now currently has more than 150 donors, including local businesses Hot Breads, Not Your Average Joe’s, Cava Mezze, Jersey Mike’s and MedImmune, but hopes to grow this to 200 by the end of the year, Meyers said.
“The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act says that a food donor is not liable,” he stressed. “When we accept food, we check on how long it has been out, how it has been handled. … A donating business doesn’t have to worry about being liable.”
Interested donors and volunteers can contact Nourish Now at 301.330.0222 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Nourish Now is located at 1111 Taft St., Rockville.