UMB Hires Local Vendors to Provide Food for Essential Workers


The dedicated essential employees at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB); police and public safety; vet services; parking and transportation; custodial services; facilities and operations; payroll; procurement; and others have worked diligently and fearlessly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the many sacrifices, the essential workers have made by reporting to work each day is leaving their families at home, understanding that there is always a chance they could return with a deadly virus.

Plus, with the closure of restaurants and food venues, there is nowhere for these vital workers to eat during work hours. To remove one of the daily worries, UMB has launched a “Food for Our Front Lines” program to provide free lunches for employees who must remain on campus to perform essential operations and keep the university’s assets safe for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The essential employees here on campus are the backbone of the University of Maryland, Baltimore,” said Denise Meyer, UMB’s associate director of environmental services who helped organize the food delivery. “Thoseessential staff members have been very excited and appreciative. One member of my department in the Environmental Services Group shed a tear.

“She was so thankful because she wasn’t sure how she was going to juggle picking up her son from daycare, getting to the grocery store, and packing lunches every day. The need is truly there, and it is greatly appreciated.”

All of the lunches are catered by local businesses in the West Baltimore area. Because of community partnerships

fostered by UMB’s Office of Community Engagement, the university identified six local restaurants to order from: Culinary Architecture, Neopol Savory Smokery, Ruben’s Mexican, Taco Town, and Zella’s Pizzeria.

“We already have a merchant access program and our goal is how do we spend the university’s money as hyper-local as possible so if there is a meeting on campus that needs breakfast or lunch delivered, we already had strong vendors that we work with,” said Ashley Valis, UMB’s executive director of community engagement. “So, when COVID happened, we started checking in with some of these merchants and found that everything they had going on was canceled. There were no meetings to cater to, and they were really struggling. They went one minute from having $1,000 in orders, to the next minute having zero dollars.”

Through the university’s president’s office, the foundation board, and others, money was immediately raised— including $10,000 in the first 48 hours— for the food delivery program.

“This program adds a lot of value to the university and the community,” said Madison Hass, the economic inclusion coordinator who connected UMB with the local restaurants that are participating in the program. “The office of community engagement’s purpose is to connect Southwest Baltimore to the resources of the university. One way that my role makes it happen is by leveraging UMB dollars and bringing it back into the community rather than spending it outside of the community.”

Each boxed lunch costs about $12.50 and includes a sandwich or salad, chips and a cookie or dessert bar, according to a UMB news release.

To keep this program going through the pandemic, UMB put out a call for donations on April 1 to pay the local businesses for their services. So far, the program has received over 100 donations, including one generous donation of $10,000 from the new UMB Foundation (UMBF) board member Pete Buzy and his wife Eileen.

Those donations, coupled with the money provided by UMBF, brings the total funding for the program to nearly $39,000, which will provide upwards of 3,000 lunches to UMB’s essential employees.

“We plan to give out lunches for as long as we have funding to do it, so the donations really count,” said Meyer, who helped to organize the Food for Our Front Lines program. “The more donations we get, the more often we can provide lunches throughout this pandemic.”

In addition to monetary donations, some local restaurants provided food free of charge. Jersey Mike’s is donating over 100 sandwiches to the Food for Our Front Lines program.

“We’re all in this together,” Hass said.