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Food pantry, free thrift store at Lakeforest Mall is helping thousands of Md. families

{p}A nonprofit is running a food pantry and free thrift store at Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg, Md. (John Gonzalez/7News){/p}

A nonprofit is running a food pantry and free thrift store at Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg, Md. (John Gonzalez/7News)

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Local nonprofit So What Else recently hit record-breaking days of service to the community -- providing approximately 51,000 meals to over 2,000 families during two recent Fridays.

The continuous long lines forming at the food pantry and the massive amount of food heading out the door is a true testament to the fact that local families continue to feel the economic ripple effects of the pandemic. Since pivoting to provide food support when the pandemic hit, the local non-profit has given away a total of 8.5 million meals across Montgomery County.

Before the pandemic, Executive Director Dave Silbert and his team of volunteers focused on providing after-school and summer camp programming to children. As COVID-19 intensified, Silbert decided to reimagine his services by switching to a food pantry. On average, over 1,200 people walk up to the pantry a day and receive about 25 meals per visit.

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This critical food support is helping build resilient families. And, it helps prevent families from having to make hard choices when it comes to putting food on the table, like paying for food or pushing other bills, like rent, to the side.

The demand has been so great that the nonprofit was forced to move out of its small, modest location and into a bigger space. But where could this massive five-day-a-week food pantry and now thrift store relocate? Enter, a slowly dying Lakeforest Mall that soon will become a shopping graveyard and eventually be re-developed. But for now, it is housing what has become one of the most successful nonprofits in the area.

Silbert has leased two storefronts and uses one of the parking lots to run his operation.

“If ever there was a time to help, now is the time,” shared Executive Director Dave Silbert. “We have seen the longest lines at our food pantry since the pandemic began due to inflation, food shortages, and the general needs of our neighbors from low-income households. Our staff and volunteers have been working tirelessly to accommodate the uptick in-home deliveries and folks facing food insecurity.”

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So What Else has resumed offering summer camps around the region, but the food distribution program is more popular than ever and is now a permanent fixture. Most of the food donated daily comes from farms, grocery stores, and other nonprofits, including the Capital Area Food Bank and Manna Foods.

The Gaithersburg pantry by the numbers:

  • So What Else provides food for an average of 400 families with 1,100 children per day
  • Serve an average of 70,000 meals per week
  • An average of 600 home deliveries of food per week
  • More than 120,000 diapers since opening

The walk-up pantry in the parking lot of Lakeforest Mall is open every Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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The public can donate money online, or they can drop off clothing and other household items at the mall. And Silbert says they always welcome new volunteers.

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