College Park City Council grants further funds to food programs with CARES money

A long line stretches outside of the College Park Church of the Nazarene on the morning of Sept. 5, 2020, as people wait to receive food. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

By Daniel Philipose
For The Diamondback

After receiving more than a million dollars in federal funding through the CARES Act earlier this year, the city of College Park only has a few weeks left to spend any remaining funds.

The act requires state, county and local jurisdictions to return any unused money to the federal government by the end of the year. However, because the city received the funding through Prince George’s County — which established its own deadline for distribution — College Park only has until Dec. 15, Mayor Patrick Wojahn said.

In order to distribute unused funds to other programs within College Park, the city revised its Coronavirus Relief Fund spending plan in November. Remaining funds originally set aside to help businesses in the city were instead put toward buying personal protective equipment and funding food assistance programs.

On Tuesday night, the College Park City Council approved the distribution of the grants to three local food service organizations.

Meals on Wheels of College Park and College Park Community Food Bank will each receive a $20,000 grant, and Route One Communities Care will receive a $10,000 grant, according to city documents.

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Earlier this year, the city granted a total of $124,000 to these organizations under the city’s original Coronavirus Relief Fund spending plan.

“We’re focused on those three [organizations] because we know that they have a greatly increased demand for their assistance, for their services,” Wojahn said. “Those are the ones that specifically provide food and financial assistance to members of the community in need.”

Meals on Wheels currently serves 175 local residents and has faced increased operation costs in recent months, said Lisa Ealley, a chairperson for the organization.

“Food costs are going up. We’ve had to hire another employee in there to help us, so that was an unexpected expense,” Ealley said.

At the onset of the pandemic, College Park Community Food Bank increased its operations to meet the greater demand for its services, going from the usual monthly distribution of food to a weekly distribution.

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The organization is on track to serve a record number of individuals this year, according to Lisa Bartusek, a board member for the organization.

“We’re on track to serve 10 times the amount of individuals that we’ve served in the past four years,” Bartusek said. “We could not have scaled up our operation without this influx of grant money that we’ve been getting.”

After the council passed the motion to grant money to the local food service organizations, District 4 council member Maria Mackie said she was glad the council was able to approve the grants without any opposition, saying it is “really important to support our community and encourage people” working at local nonprofits.

She remains optimistic that Congress will pass another relief bill in the future, since the COVID-19 pandemic has no clear end in sight.

“We have to deal with [the coronavirus], and I’m very hopeful that we can work with our county and our state government and the federal government to get money filtered down to the people that really need it,” Mackie said.

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