Community Rallies For Meal Pickups During School Closures

Community Rallies For Meal Pickups During School Closures
Baked Dessert Cafe owner Robin Tomaselli is pictured receiving supplies with some young volunteers over the weekend. Photo courtesy of Baked Dessert Cafe's Facebook page

BERLIN – Local businesses, organizations and churches are spearheading efforts to ensure no child goes hungry while schools are closed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

When Governor Larry Hogan announced last week that all Maryland public schools would close from March 16 to March 27 to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), members of the community began mobilizing support to ensure students that typically benefit from school meal programs continued to receive food.

Within hours of Hogan’s press conference, for example, Baked Dessert Cafe owner Robin Tomaselli and her staff launched an initiative to provide free food to students in need during the two-week closure.

“Many people don’t know that some students rely on school programs for breakfast, lunch and dinner …,” she said. “Our knee-jerk reaction was to do something to help.”

That effort, however, quickly grew. And by the next morning, Tomaselli said she was inundated with offers of help and messages from those wishing to donate nonperishable items.

“The response has been completely overwhelming …,” she said. “Our community has been generous and kind.”

Now, the café is working with several community partners – including SonRise Church, the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, Pittsville Volunteer Fire Department, The Iron Horse, Boxcar 40, Willards Lions Club and Uncle Willies – to collect and distribute nonperishable items to students in need.

“We are trying to make as big of an impact as possible,” Tomaselli said, “and we know we can’t do this alone.”

Donations will be collected at select locations Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Lunch will be distributed at select locations Tuesday through Friday from 1-2 p.m.

For more information, or for a complete list of drop-off and distribution locations, visit the “Baked Dessert Cafe” Facebook page or call Robin Tomaselli at 301-785-6161. “The situation is evolving by the minute,” she said. “We’ll continue to keep everyone updated.”

Buckingham Presbyterian Church’s blessing box – stocked with nonperishable foods and toiletries – will also be open 24 hours near the entrance of the church parking lot. Donations to the blessing box are also encouraged.

And at Coastal Community Church in Berlin, leaders are partnering with Showell Elementary School, Ocean City Elementary School and Designing Windows to deliver food to students.

Bryan Pugner, lead pastor at Coastal Community Church, said both schools have backpack programs that supply food to at-risk children on a weekly basis. Each Friday, those students are sent home with food to eat throughout the weekend.

“We are now looking to extend the backpack program during the two weeks students will be out of school,” he said.

To provide meals each day, officials are collecting nonperishable food items that are easy for young children to open and eat.

“It’s been pretty amazing,” Ocean City Elementary School counselor Linda McGean said. “We have some scary and negative things going on right now, and the community has reached out to us without us even asking.”

Officials are hoping to collect two weeks worth of donations by March 19. The bags will then be packed on Thursday morning and delivered by volunteers.

“For people that don’t know what to do or how to help, this is an opportunity to link arms and help the community,” Pugner said. “It’s disappointing in the world we live in that there are students in our own backyard that are hungry … That’s the heart behind where this started.”

School systems in Worcester and Wicomico counties will also provide meals to children in need during the two-week mandatory school closure.

Worcester County Public Schools will provide bagged lunches at Snow Hill Elementary School and Ebenezer United Methodist Church in Snow Hill, Pocomoke Middle School and Windy Gardens apartments in Pocomoke and Buckingham Elementary School in Berlin on March 17, 18, 20, 23, 25 and 27 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Please note that the public will not be permitted to enter the buildings, and the appropriate staff will be prepared to bring bagged lunches outside. For more information, contact Odtis Collins at 410-632-5015.

Wicomico County Public Schools will provide meals to all WCPS children from birth to age 18, and to individuals over the age of 18 who are mentally or physically disabled.

Meal pickup will begin March 17 and will be available each weekday though March 27.

A lunch and snack will be available for pickup from noon to 1 p.m. on weekdays at East Salisbury Elementary School, Fruitland Primary School, Pemberton Elementary School, Pinehurst Elementary School, Prince Street Elementary School and Salisbury Middle School.

For more information, visit or send inquiries to [email protected].

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.