Updated: Nov 13
Julie Fernandez gets up in the wee hours of the morning to sort and screen the food donations that have been dropped off at her Glen Burnie home in the Harundale neighborhood. But all the food is not for her, it's for her neighbors.
Her neighborhood food pantry has grown from feeding 30 to 40 individuals and families each week to now 110 each week since she started 15 months ago. It was not an effort she was planning on doing. Her food pantry, now called "Healing Hunger" just happened organically.
A man she knew only as "Mr. Joe" was helping some of her neighbors get the food they needed each week, and when he passed away, she was asked to step in. She did.
"Back then my husband lost his job...so I was on the other side of the pantry," she said. "I was getting food."
But now the pantry, which pops up under her car port each Tuesday and Thursday at 1 p.m., has at least 110 hungry mouths to feed. So the effort takes up much of her time.
A fellow worker for the hungry, a man she simply knows as Jack, picks up a load of leftovers from Giant Food in Pasadena each week. Half he takes to a trailer park in need on the Eastern Shore, and half he gives to Fernandez's Healing Hunger.
Generous neighbors who are better off than some others also donate food over her fence for the twice-a-week giveaways.
She acknowledges the effort to help her neighbors has taken over her life.
"It has, but it's a good thing," she said. "I believe you can't always take from people. It's not a Godly thing to do. You have to give back."
Fernandez said she worked as a property manager for 30 years, but that ended when she fell ill after gastric bypass surgery. And then she also ended up getting social anxiety.
Some of her patrons wonder about that, that she has social anxiety when she is able to help so many, but she so far has been able to manage both her disability and Healing Hunger.
"This is like a healing thing," she explained. "It gets me out with people. I had to work up to it."
Not all the people she's encountered have been kind. Some neighbors have stolen from the pantry, she said, hopping over her fence to steal the tables under her car port or even the food. Others online have accused her of scamming people.
Steve "Buddy" Finch said he has worked with Fernandez in feeding hungry folks. He is founder of the non-profit BKind, which also helps people in the area.
"She has been a joy to work with," he said. "It get very busy. We're there for her and she's there for us. She's a very spirited woman and has got a very giving heart."
Both community volunteers said there seem to be more neighbors in need these days.
"The need is greater now because of stores being bare," Fernandez said. "People can't find stuff."
"A lot of people are in need," Finch confirmed. "It's not just the homeless."
The food she gets from the Giant supermarket is usually either food that is getting ready to expire or food that needs to be moved out because more stock is coming in, Fernandez said.
Combined with the food she gets from neighbors, the offering at the Healing Hunger food pantry can be quite varied.
And that is part of the fun, for both her and her customers she said.
Sometimes they get prepared foods, sometimes baby food, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, bread--even anchovies.
"It just depends on the day," Fernandez said. "You never know what you're getting."
The community volunteer gets an abundance of emails enquiring about what the current stock is, but her time is too limited to answer them. Those in need must come to the pantry themselves to take what they need.
Even though Fernandez is spearheading the Healing Hunger Food Pantry by herself, with help from those who are able, she has plans to expand.
She already includes a Baby Pantry for young families at Healing Hunger, and she is planning a Christmas party for children and their families December 11.
"We're going to have crafts for them and hopefully have toys for stockings," she said.
Fernandez knows how it is to be in need. She has experienced it more than once. She grew up in the projects in the area. But she was surrounded by a loving mother and five aunts who watched over her.
"I just loved it because I was surrounded by my family and all," she recalled.
Her mom, Betty Spinks, brought her to soup kitchens when she was younger to volunteer and inspired her with a attitude of being there for others. She gives a great deal of credit to her mother for teaching her to help others.
Fernandez doesn't belong to a church currently, having lost enthusiasm for organized religion after being obligated to go to church school three times a week as a child, but she does consider herself a Christian.
She said she has made some good friends through healing hunger, but is only now giving serious consideration to turning her private mission to help her hungry neighbors into a nonprofit.
"I'm not a nonprofit," she said. "I'm not a church. I'm just here trying to help."
To get in touch with Fernandez about getting help from the pantry or about offering some help to her pantry, you can message her through her Facebook Page or give her a call or text her at 443-335-5250.
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