[caption id=”attachment_7750” align=”aligncenter” width=”824”] Local nonprofit Identity works on creative and healthy ways to combat hunger in Montgomery County, MD. Photo credit: Identity (www.identity-youth.org)[/caption]

By Delphine Uriburu-Wilder

Delphine is a rising junior at Georgetown University. She is interning at Burness over the summer.

For many college students who live or have summer jobs in Montgomery County, Maryland, the countdown to summer break is filled with excited anticipation. We scratch the dates off our calendars until the last day of school, our vacation to the beach, the mountains or even another country.

But, not everyone in Montgomery County feels the same way.

For families that rely on the school system to feed their children, summer break brings feelings of dread and worry. No longer are three meals per day guaranteed, so families must search for another dependable food source. Last year, I volunteered with a summer program at a Montgomery County school. Out of my group of 21 students, 19 relied on school meals as their only meals.

My students represent just a fraction of the 88,000 Montgomery County residents who are food insecure. That’s 88,000 people—fathers, mothers, children, grandparents—who do not know when or how they are going to get their next meal.

The county has not been blind to this issue. In fact, many organizations take it upon themselves to help, including Burness. But for the most part, these groups have operated as individual entities, taking well-intentioned actions within a fragmented system. In other words, there has been no county plan for a collaborative approach to fundamentally reform our food system—for the benefit of those currently hungry and those who will be in the future.

But that is hopefully about to change.

Last month, a new bill was introduced in the Montgomery County Council, proposing the creation and implementation of the first-ever strategic plan to end hunger in the county.

Collaboration is the underscoring value of Bill 19-16. One of the bill’s main stipulations is that at least twelve different types of contributors—non-profits, government officials, schools, county departments—have to be consulted in the making of the plan, from individuals who are food insecure to organizations that have been in the food donating business for thirty years.

At the bill’s hearing last month, multiple people from a variety of organizations came to testify in support of the bill and its collaborative nature. Andy Burness was one of them.

Burness has been an active participant in community dialogue and action to fight hunger for years. We helped organize the Montgomery County Food Security Collaborative and help fund the Community Food Rescue mini-grant program, which encourages recipients to collaborate on food recovery operations.

As Andy said in his testimony, “Bill 19-16 is government at its best—involving all people working on one part of the elephant to come together to create a plan and then deliver on it.”

Andy and other Montgomery County leaders were not the only ones to show their unwavering support. By the end of the hearing, a majority of County Council Members had been so moved by the testimony that they signed up as co-sponsors of the bill.

Will Montgomery County be the first county in Maryland where every individual is food secure? To be determined. Dialogue and planning are just the beginning, and it remains to be seen if this collaboration will work and what it will actually produce.

Ending hunger will not be a quick process, nor will it be easy. But I am optimistic that Bill 19-16 is a great first step to help the 88,000 people who are currently worried about finding their next meal.

Hopefully this bill signifies the beginning of the end of a fragmented network and demonstrates that tackling food insecurity in a holistic, coordinated way will allow all Montgomery County residents to anticipate summer break with excitement, not dread.