Government Changes Causing Some Worries For Diakonia

OCEAN CITY — A “perfect storm” of troubles has put some stress on Diakonia’s food pantry and a newly expanded veterans’ program. Luckily, community support has helped fill the gap until issues at the state level can be sorted out.
The combination of the busy summer season ending in Worcester County and state surplus food management being transferred, all while the government shutdown cast a shadow over October, resulted in that “perfect storm” of disruption, according to Claudia Nagel, executive director for Diakonia.
“There was a change in how the USDA food, the surplus food, is distributed. And we’re still sorting through that,” she said. “And for the first time in a very long time, I can’t remember how long, we are using the food that we have and we don’t have any in storage.”
The food pantry at Diakonia is stocked through two primary sources: USDA surplus food and local donations. The state recently transferred management of USDA surplus to the Maryland Food Bank. Under this new system, food deliveries to Diakonia from the state have been delayed with the recent government shutdown potentially playing a part.
“When there is a disconnect or an interruption in any of those systems it effects everyone,” she said. “It just may take three weeks for it to catch up.”
Whatever the cause, Diakonia did not receive its shipment of food for October from the state as of Wednesday. The November shipment will be due soon as well. This has come at a difficult time with seasonal jobs usually finished by October and with the holidays on the horizon.
“So the demand is there and our surplus is gone and we feed 40 people a day and then we have our food pantry which is open seven days a week to feed folks in the community,” she said.
Providing food for that base of 40 people amounts to about 6,200 meals a month. On top of that, Nagel said that eight to 10 households per day also visit the food pantry for different levels of assistance.
“The demand for the service has not gone down but resources have,” she said. “It’s always a challenge and it affects more and more people.”
However, the cavalry arrived for Diakonia in the form of community support. Businesses like the Casino at Ocean Downs and Seacrets as well as many schools, banks and other institutes have held food drives this month to replace a lot of the non-perishable items that Diakonia would usually get from the state.
“That’s one of the things that is so incredible about our community in how people will come together to support each other … It sounds kind of corny when I say, ‘local people helping local people,’ but it really is,” she said.
The glitch in receiving state support is still a concern for Diakonia, as even with the extra food drives “the food that comes in goes right back out the door,” in many cases, she said.
Even while dealing with headaches with the food pantry, Diakonia has been able to expand its Homeless Prevention and Re-housing program this month to include a special focus on helping veterans.
“We’ve just started the expansion of one of our assistance programs. It’s a program for supportive services for veterans and their families,” said Nagel. “It expands our assistance to veterans and it will support them.”
Because there is still some uncertainty about how food from the state will be managed, Nagle said that the need for individual donations of items like non-perishable food or even volunteer support is particularly high. For more information, contact Diakonia at 410-213-0923