The Upcounty Hub was founded with the philosophy of providing individuals and families with food and other essentials, without requiring documentation to prove necessity, allowing them to maintain their privacy and dignity. The idea that “we rise by lifting others” has been a central principle of our organization because helping others is nutrition for the soul. Our work for the community by the community unites us in the fight against food insecurity because people, especially children, should not have to worry about one of their most basic needs. The residual impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has created a greater demand for food and healthcare assistance, and our goal is to connect the most vulnerable and impoverished populations to fundamental, culturally-competent resources.
What is Food Insecurity?
Food insecurity is the lack of consistent availability to the basic need of nutritional food for a household. The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly exacerbated this existing problem, especially among minority and lower-income populations. Since the beginning of the Upcounty Hub, the need has grown as the long-term effects of the pandemic have surfaced with people dealing with rent and other financial obligations after many were laid-off from their jobs.
The Story of the Upcounty Hub
In March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Grace Rivera-Oven saw the need for assistance in Upper Montgomery County and began collecting donations in her garage. As the amount of supplies started to multiply, she partnered with Lynn Arndt, then CEO of BlackRock Center for the Arts, to use their space as the headquarters for the Upcounty Consolidation Hub. With donations from the David and Mikel Blair Foundation, Grace and a small group of volunteers made and distributed 300 Easter baskets to children living in the Middlebrook Mobile Home Park in Germantown, Maryland. Its other initial partnerships with the Healthcare Initiative Foundation and Nourish Now helped the
Upcounty Hub to start by serving 23 families with boxes of donated food, delivered to peoples’ homes, including those without transportation or under quarantine. As the need grew, the Hub started having drive-thru distributions at centralized locations in the community where people could pick up boxes and bags of food and other essentials without showing any documentation. At one point, it was helping to serve individuals and families in other areas of the county as well. Because of its philosophy of being inclusive and eliminating barriers, the Upcounty Hub has quickly became a model that has since been replicated seven times throughout Montgomery County.
Through their partnership with Care For Your Health, Inc., the Hub was also able to provide COVID testing and vaccination clinics, including holding them within the most vulnerable communities. They also provided COVID kits, which included essential products like thermometers, toilet paper and plastic dinnerware. The Upcounty Hub is also one of the founding partners of the program by the Latino Health Initiative, Por Nuestra Salud y Bienestar, which has focused on educating, addressing, and lessening the impact of COVID-19 on the Latino community.
The Upcounty Hub has grown to fit the needs of the community. By the summer of 2020, the Hub began a weekly drive-thru distribution, which eventually grew to three every week. In March 2021, the Upcounty Hub made 1,300 Easter baskets. It also hosts special distributions for Thanksgiving with turkeys and other holiday food boxes and bags as well as a toy drive for Christmas.
In October 2021, the Upcounty Hub moved to its new space at the Upcounty Regional Services Center, celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by prominent community leaders, including County Executive Marc Elrich and Councilmembers Gabe Albornoz, Nancy Navarro, and Andrew Friedson. The collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Montgomery County Food Council, and the Food Security Task Force has been instrumental in analyzing data and maintaining funding. The Hub has submitted reports to help assess the need by zip code and family size to track the areas hardest hit by the pandemic.
Since its birth as a program under BlackRock Center for the Arts to its own 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the Upcounty Hub has been recognized numerous times for its work to fight food insecurity with awards, news features, and distinguished visitors. Thanks to partnerships with other nonprofit organizations as well as grant funding from Montgomery County government, the Hub currently feeds approximately 1,300 families a week. It has also grown to include case management and connect people to resources like primary care physicians and other healthcare services. There are drive-thru distributions every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. In addition, we have become one of the partners for Sheppard Pratt’s new Community Wellness Hub, Thriving Germantown, which handles case management and comprehensive service coordination by connecting a group of non-profits to respond to the disparities and serve the different needs of Northern Montgomery County.
We distribute over 30,000 pounds of food and other essentials to serve over 1,300 households every week through:
Drive-thru Distributions - at least 4 neighborhood events every week where Hub trucks bring food to areas with high need for pickup (schedule shown on monthly distribution calendar posted on website, social media, and other County assistance sites)
Home Deliveries - boxes and bags of food
and produce plus prepared hot meals for seniors, disabled, or clients with COVID
Clinics - free flu shots, COVID vaccinations and testing, and childhood immunizations
Case Management - on-site case manager to help clients access SNAP (food stamps) and other County resources
Emergency Assistance - provide food and other aid when emergency situations arise (e.g. assisting residents whose homes were lost in a fire, Afghan refugees, etc.)