Food on the 15th, a multi-generational project that involves children and adults in collecting non-perishable food items for low-income senior citizens in Howard County, has continued to thrive and grow over the past year.

The effort operates on no overhead, as all foods are donated and people volunteer their time to sort, check expiration dates and deliver. In the eight years since it was established, more than 18,000 free bags of groceries and toiletries have been delivered.

Howard County, one of the most affluent counties in the country, still has a percentage of its population that is “food insecure,” meaning some of the residents don’t have the financial resources to ensure that they have enough food to eat at every meal. This is particularly true with low-income senior citizens, some of whom live solely on a Social Security check that may run out by the 15th of the month, leaving them without resources to pay for prescription medications and food.

Partnerships Provide Support

Building partnerships in the community has enabled Food on the 15th to continue to expand and helps ensure that there is enough food for each delivery. Consistent partners are Pointers Run, Clarksville and Dayton Oakes elementary schools, Clarksville Middle School and Atholton High School. The Coalition of Geriatric Services supports the organization with food collections, and New Hope Seventh Day Adventist Church’s members collect, sort, bag and deliver food over the summer when school is not in session.

Even one-time efforts are helpful. For example, to commemorate Martin Luther King’s Birthday, Food on the 15th partnered with Jewish Federation of Howard County for a mitzvah (good deed) day; and a family in Clarksville held a “food raising party” in November and invited families over for an informal evening of soft drinks and snacks. Each family attending was asked to bring a bag of non-perishable food items.

Scouting for Food, a Boy Scout project, has been another way to get an infusion of non-perishable donated food in the spring when donations are sometimes insufficient to meet the demand. Partnerships can be tailored to meet the specific need of a group or organization, which is what is being done for a Boy Scout troop in Anne Arundel County that wants to assist with a delivery in February.

Volunteer Opportunities for Children

Food on the 15th’s volunteer opportunities are an excellent way for students to learn that, no matter what their age, they can make a difference in their community. The youngest volunteers are babies who are adorable and make the senior citizens smile — a gift that can’t be purchased at any store. Toddlers can draw pictures and make cards for the residents.

Older children help sort the food into categories so that a mini-grocery store can be set up at low-income senior housing. Students and their parents work in teams to help the residents back to their apartments with the foods they have selected. This provides a way for families (and especially children) to get hands-on philanthropic experience.

Students also receive community service hours for volunteering. Utilizing social networking has made it easy to recruit volunteers, as all opportunities are posted on Facebook, so people are able to volunteer when it’s convenient for them.

Food on the 15th would not be where it is today without the consistent support of the Howard County Public School System and the many groups and organizations who regularly step forward to conduct food drives. To find out about volunteer opportunities, “Like” the organization on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Food-on-the-15th/189244471120065.

Julie Rosenthal is the founder and director of Food on the 15th (www.foodonthe15th.org). She can be reached at foodonthe15th@gmail.com.