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How to Give Away 100,000 Pounds of Food in Four Hours

A Young Alum at Nonprofit Fights Hunger in Maryland and Beyond

By Ian Schuster ’23, MPH ’24

two volunteers serve food to child

Megan Joe '19, executive director of hunger relief at the Maryland food bank So What Else, works with colleagues to serve after-school meals provided by Mamma Lucia restaurant to children in the Rockville Housing Community in 2019.

Photo courtesy of Megan Joe

A surplus of millions of apples going to waste last fall was more than enough to make mid-Atlantic farmers’ stomachs sink.

But for Megan Joe ’19, it was an opportunity to fill stomachs.

Over the next two months, the executive director of hunger relief at So What Else, a food bank based in Bethesda, Md., quickly distributed truckloads of the sweet windfall, which, without buyers, would have rotted in the orchards. Instead, 5 million apples went to the nonprofit’s pantries feeding the hungry in Virginia, Washington, Baltimore and Montgomery County, Maryland.

Joe rarely refuses donations, even when the scale seems beyond capacity.

“We fight to improve the quality of life for people living in underserved communities, and we believe that starts with making sure they don't have to worry about where their next meal is coming from,” said Joe.

At the University of Maryland, Joe majored in community health because she wanted a career that gives her so much of what she finds daily at So What Else. “Where I thrive is face-to-face interactions, working with the community,” she said.

Joe, a Wheaton, Md., native, started at So What Else in 2019 as a part of her UMD senior capstone project, focusing on one of the organization’s goals: working with children to teach healthy habits. But the opportunities she saw to immediately help the larger community drew Joe to join So What Else as one of its few staff members.

In her early years, Joe often worked 60- to 80-hour weeks. She might leave for the food bank at 4 a.m. and head home after her final donation pickup around 10 p.m. “When we first started, we were so small, I would do a ton of the driving for picking up food at all hours,” she said.

Now, Joe and her team organize donations, schedule deliveries and prepare for their big Saturday distribution, where they give out about 100,000 pounds of food in four hours.

One in every three Marylanders suffers from food insecurity, according to the Maryland Food Bank, due in part to the state’s high cost of living and relatively flat wages. It works with over 1,200 pantries, including So What Else, which serves about 40,000 families per week and donates food to over 60 food assistance providers.

In Bethesda, Maryland, one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the state, So What Else’s clients began lining up at its outdoor pantry as early as 6 a.m. on a cold January day. By 8, the line was three blocks long.

Volunteers, some of whom are clients themselves, were allowed to set aside a box of donated food before the doors opened. They stood behind tables and handed each client potatoes, lettuce, bags of tortilla chips, rice milk, frozen chickens and more. Families with kids also took home a Costco cake.

“It has been God’s blessing. For many years I have been coming to So What Else,” said Alicia Mendoza, a volunteer who began as a client. The food she receives has helped her save $200 to $300 a week, and now she’s glad to pay it forward. “I am very thankful to the organization for the help that I can give for the whole community.”

That starts, but doesn’t stop, with food. So What Else provides youth programs and legal, mental health and substance abuse resources. Joe also fosters relationships with other organizations to bring resume-building and financial literacy workshops to So What Else distribution centers.

The people who know her — as a colleague or client — all echo the same sentiment:

“She's amazing. She never takes no for an answer. She always has a solution, she always has an answer. If she doesn’t have it immediately, she finds a way to get it,” said Isabel Yanez, the Montgomery County thrift store manager of So What Else. “What really gets me is that a family will call and say, ‘I don’t have food for the day,’ and Megan will say, ‘Oh no, don't worry, we will do a home delivery.’ Mi inspiración.



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