Food for families in need: Q&A with Dunrick Sogie-Thomas, EduCare Support Services
By Kevin Adler
It’s 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday, and Dunrick Sogie-Thomas is at Costco. He’s accompanied by a team of volunteers to pick up perishable and nonperishable food items that will be distributed to needy households in Takoma Park.
By 8 a.m., he and the volunteers are at EduCare’s first mobile distribution site at the Franklin Apartments near Sligo Creek Parkway for their first distribution of the morning. Five more distribution points follow. By noon, he’s leading another group of volunteers at the final distribution point, Grace United Methodist Church on New Hampshire Avenue.
But his day has just started because Sogie-Thomas has reams of paperwork to file, phone calls to field and questions to answer. That’s the busy routine of the director of programs for EduCare Support Services, a social service organization that received a grant of $23,900 from the City of Takoma Park this year.
How did EduCare get started?
Sogie-Thomas: I started EduCare in 2010 soon after I moved to Takoma Park from Gaithersburg. I asked the previous pastor of Grace United Methodist Church, Pastor Paul Johnson, and members of the church if we could assist them with a food pantry they had started. The church has been very supportive from the beginning; they provided us with space for the pantry, including an office space for staff and volunteers.
What does EduCare do?
Sogie-Thomas: EduCare provides monthly supplementary food baskets to eligible residents of Takoma Park at Grace UM Church and about 134 seniors and persons with disabilities at our off-site distribution locations.
On each delivery, EduCare provides the following perishable and non-perishable food items: bread, milk, orange juice, eggs, peanut butter, chicken, mixed vegetables, assorted canned fruits, rice, fresh produce, pasta and pasta sauce.
What has been the response?
Sogie-Thomas: The need is great. EduCare provides a two-week supply of food for each household, and we distribute once per month. We serve about 285 households each month. The majority of our participants are senior citizens or persons with disabilities. We distribute over 180,000 pounds of food each year.
In addition to the food pantry, we provide case management services, notary services, and CPR and First Aid training to individuals who are unemployed and actively seeking employment. I am trained to teach CPR and First Aid through the American Red Cross. And we provide referral services to people who call in every day looking for other services that we do not provide, such as utility assistance.
Where do you get your food and your funding?
Sogie-Thomas: The mobile food pantry is currently funded by City of Takoma Park and Montgomery County. We also received assistance from the Capital Area Food Bank and food donations from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). We also receive food donations from businesses, individuals and schools in the community, including the Takoma Park Neighborhood Food Project. The Takoma Park Food Project conducts food drives for EduCare from local residents; Geoff Maxson is the leader of this program, and they have been great. The City of Takoma Park has been very supportive of the food pantry. A few years ago, we needed more freezers to store chicken and dairy, and they provided the funding for us to purchase two freezers.
Are you meeting all of the needs that you see?
Sogie-Thomas: With regular food donations and more people coming to volunteer, we could serve over 500 households per month. And we receive a lot of requests from persons who are not eligible [because they do not meet income limits or are already receiving other government support]. It is terrible to turn them away; some people are desperate. In such cases, we are able to give them the food from the Takoma Park Neighborhood Food Network and the Capital Area Food Bank.
What other services would EduCare like to provide?
Sogie-Thomas: At the moment, our Job Club, our employment assistance program, is on hold because we do not have the volunteers to manage it. Our First Friday Night youth program and citizenship classes are also on hold. EduCare would like to provide a range of services to residents of Takoma Park, including utility and rental assistance, employment assistance, life skills training for at-risk youth and immigrants and a community-inclusive day program for seniors.
What inspired you to do this work?
Sogie-Thomas: I know what it’s like to be hungry. I was born in Sierra Leone, and I moved to England and lived there for almost 12 years before I immigrated to the United States. I started a one-stop social services center at a church in England. My passion for social work started when I was in high school in Sierra Leone. After I moved to the United States, I went to Montgomery College and then received a degree in social work from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. I’m going to start a master’s program in management of aging services at UMBC because I enjoy working with the senior population.
Sogie-Thomas: On behalf of the board of EduCare, I want to say we are very appreciative of the City’s support to relieve hunger in our community.
To learn more about EduCare, visit www.educaresupportservices.org.
This article appeared in the June 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.