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Bruce Michalec’s Grand Plan

We have food pantries all over the state. Why not furniture pantries?

Bruce Michalec’s bank needs a new vault. Deposits are bigger than ever in the three months since Anne Arundel County Food & Resources Bank merged with the Maryland Food Bank. Soon, all the food will crowd out the resources.
    Michalec founded a food bank for Anne Arundel County in 1985. Soon, need and opportunity combined to bring other resources like furniture and medical supplies into the bank.
    “Every time I give away a bed or a wheelchair,” Michalec reasoned, “it was like giving them food because they would have been using food money to buy it otherwise.”
    Twenty-nine years later, Anne Arundel County Food & Resources Bank is still the only free, one-stop shop for food, nutritional supplements, medical equipment, furniture, vehicles, appliances and more for Marylanders in need.
    Last year, after 28 years of flying solo, Michalec determined partnership would bring in new resources.
    He turned to the Maryland Food Bank, founded in 1979, which works with the national Feeding America program to bring needed food to 21 Maryland counties. In 2013, the Maryland Food Bank delivered 29 million meals.
    The Anne Arundel and Maryland food banks have cooperated on statewide food drives and other projects for years. Now their relationship is formal, making the Anne Arundel Food Bank one of the Maryland Food Bank’s Regional Redistribution Organizations.
    “I see it as an opportunity to give people better food service and better food products,” Michalec says.
    An immediate benefit is donations from stores affiliated with Feeding America.
    In January 2014, almost 12,000 pounds of food poured in from four Targets and one super Walmart, all new sources.
    Those extra pounds are worth just under $20,000, according to assistant manager Susan Thomas.
    The food bank now receives more fresh produce, frozen foods and some novelties: high-end items like cereal, breakfast bars, individually wrapped snacks and meats. Personal hygiene products, pet food and cleaning supplies are also among the new donations.
    “Hopefully, we will be able to start getting more non-food items, too,” says Thomas. Of particular need are over-the-counter medicines to stock on-site treatment centers.
    Suppliers will eventually include all Anne Arundel County Target stores, Sam’s Clubs and Walmarts.

Much More of a Good Thing
    Now the Anne Arundel County Food Bank and its member agencies are juggling much more of a good thing.
    A new driver and warehouse manager help maintain the inventory in the now-full 30,000-square-foot bank at Crownsville Hospital Center.
    Bounty creates a whole new wish list.
    At the top of the list are volunteer drivers for the small fleet of four trucks.
    The 120 or so member agencies that receive and distribute food also need to adapt by adding more trucks, storage and refrigeration space.
    “Pantries have to convert their programs to suit the abundance of food,” says Thomas. “But that’s a good problem to have.” The food bank has already passed along a few freezers.
    Thomas plans more distribution partnerships, especially with programs that feed kids and seniors.
    “We will be serving more communities and making it easier for people to get to distribution areas, especially for people without transportation,” she says.
    Food is in short supply for some 43,000 people in Anne Arundel County.

The Next Expansion
    More food to feed more people is one aspect of Michalec’s long-term plan. His next goal is expanding his furniture operation.
    “I wanted to break the furniture and food storage away from each other,” he says.
    Partnership with the Maryland Food Bank guaranteed enough food to fill all the space he could give it.
    Today’s crowding makes new space more pressing than ever. Needed is another building — or two — for a furniture showroom and pharmacy.
    The dream is bigger still.
    “We have food pantries all over the state, why not have furniture?” he says.
    For suppliers, Michalec thinks he’ll work through the Maryland Food Banks’ statewide contact list. “There are people in Hartford County that would like to donate furniture, they just don’t have anywhere to go — yet,” he says.
    “With state and county, community and church, we can do it,” Michalec says. “It’s working.”

    In 2013, the Anne Arundel County Food & Resources Bank distributed more than $1.6 million worth of food to member agencies and assisted 625 families with appliances and 364 families with furniture, exercise equipment and household items valued at over $100,000.
    To donate, call Michalec at 410-923-4255.
    Food and monetary donations made during April will be matched up to $35,000 through the Feinstein Foundation $1 Million Dollar Giveaway. Label your food donation Ending Hunger to be part of the match.