Montgomery County officials hope new legislation establishing an office focused on food resilience can help connect disadvantaged residents to important social services as well as food distribution.

The law project, presented at the county council meeting on Tuesday, would establish an Office of Food Systems Resilience. Board members approved just over $1 million in the fiscal year 2023 budget for the office – nearly $350,000 would pay for three positions and approximately $739,000 would be allocated to various grants and programs to fulfill the office mission.

Deputy chief executive Earl Stoddard said in an interview Thursday that part of that mission is food distribution. If council approves the bill, the new office would also help integrate programs that exist across several county departments and outside organizations – the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Community Partnerships, Office of county agriculture and local food aid providers, among others.

Often, it’s just as important to connect people with job opportunities, affordable housing and other services, as well as providing food every week or so, Stoddard said.

“What we have realized is that food distribution is the band-aid solution to food insecurity,” he said.

The new office would be required to advise the county executive and council on “food systems policy issues,” as well as provide an annual report containing recommended policy, budget and administrative changes, according to the bill.

The office would also establish grant policies and coordinate with other county resources to secure county, state, and federal grants.

Council Chairman Gabe Albornoz is the primary sponsor of the bill on behalf of County Executive Marc Elrich. Albornoz said in an interview that the legislation “institutionalizes” efforts already undertaken by the county government and nonprofit organizations regarding food distribution and related services that were essential during the pandemic.

He said solving food insecurity requires a “multi-generational” approach — and county officials and nonprofits must also consider the housing and health needs of people who also need food. .

The bill would also build on the work of nonprofits like Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg, Albornoz said. He highlighted the organization’s work delivering food and meeting people where they are in Montgomery County.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created increased needs across the county, Albornoz said — and it’s important to consider what kind of resources and food residents actually need.

“There are so many people who have had to ask for this kind of assistance, and so many people on the brink of crisis,” he said. “And with the county’s wonderful diversity, we need to make sure the food we provide is actually culturally appropriate and consistent with people’s diets.”

Angela Whitmal, senior director of people and culture at Manna Food, said in an interview that during the coronavirus pandemic, their food bank has seen a significant increase in the number of new families asking for help. Manna Food officials also saw families who had not visited the food bank for a long time.

There are many nonprofits and organizations across the county that provide valuable social services — and further linking their efforts is important and a critical part of the legislation, Whitmal said.

“We know providing food aid by itself will not solve the problem,” Whitmal said. “It’s not gonna happen [families] to stability and self-sufficiency, and so we need to continue to develop all of these safety net providers.

All types of stakeholders need to be involved, she said — from large organizations and nonprofits funding the social safety net to churches and other similar small institutions that may target certain immigrant and underprivileged populations. people in need.

“It’s going to require us to look holistically at all agencies that serve the community and bring everyone to the table, not just the large institutions that have massive resources,” Whitmal said.

A public hearing for the bill is scheduled for June 28 at 1:30 p.m.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at [email protected]