While working at Jades Vending, Celebrity Delly and Panera Bread, Brett Meyers constantly was bothered by all the wasted food. When he learned that 40 percent of all food products in the United States are thrown away, he felt compelled to do something.
So Meyers quit his job.
In May 2011, he began knocking on doors in the Gaithersburg area and spoke with area restaurant and supermarket owners and caterers, thus beginning a journey of gathering food, raising money and most importantly, helping those who don’t have enough to eat.
The recovered food that the 37-year-old resident of the Kentlands collects comes from more than 120 diverse places, including 4935 Bar and Kitchen in Bethesda, Trader Joe’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, as well as Washington Hebrew Congregation, B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville, Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Temple Beth Ami in Rockville and Temple Emanuel Synagogue in Kensington.
Food also comes to Nourish Now, Meyers’ organization, in other ways. A truck carrying 13 pallets of water donated its supply after one of the pallets fell and some of the waters popped open, making the load unsaleable, Meyers said. Nourish Now also received lots of carrots when a food wholesaler rejected them, saying the carrots were too large.
Today, Nourish Now donates food to 60 organizations, as well as everyone coming to its Rockville office.
Visitors are given a five day supply of food. No questions are asked and financial documents are not necessary. “No one wants to come to a food pantry,” said Meyers.
Besides receiving prepared meals, fruit, bread and perishable items, those stopping by receive a kind word and information on where to obtain other services.
According to the Community Action Board, Montgomery County’s federally designated antipoverty group, 7 percent of the county’s population lived below the federal poverty level in 2015. Eight percent of the population, almost 80,000 people, are food insecure.
The report also noted that “more children in Montgomery County are food insecure than any other county in the state,” putting that number at 37,150 children.
Meyers knows these statistics well. His steadfast response is, “A family does not need to suffer. We have enough.”
Nourish Now distributes about 4,500 pounds of food weekly, said Meyers, whose 2-year-old daughter attends school at Washington Hebrew Congregation’s Julia Bindeman Suburban Center.
WHC is “an amazing donor,” Meyers said. Earlier this month, the synagogue held a service day on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Meyers and other volunteers put together 3,600 tuna and cheese casseroles, 400 bags of trail mix, 1,200 pounds of cut potatoes, carrots, celery and green cabbage and 400 bags of materials to make soup, according to Lindsay Fry, the congregation’s director of member services.
And Nourish Now came away with almost 500 bags, each containing a five-day supply of food for four to six people, Meyers said.
The Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, which advocates and provides for special needs clients, is on the receiving end of Nourish Now’s generosity. This past summer, JFGH started receiving fresh produce and other food items. The foundation also receives kosher food donations from caterers that give to Nourish Now, and its group homes get flowers each Shabbat.
“This additional food is much appreciated by the homes,” said Vivian Bass, CEO at JFGH. “Truly, Nourish Now has been a blessing from the community for JFGH.”
Besides the food, some young adults in JFGH’s Sally and Robert Goldberg MOST (Meaningful Opportunities for Successful Transitions) program pick up the food and sort it. “This task provides additional training for the participants,” Bass said.
Nourish Now has a fulltime staff of six and plenty of volunteers. It also has one cargo van and one box truck for pickups and deliveries.
This past year, it recovered 258,000 pounds of food, Meyers said. That’s more than three times the amount it collected only two years ago.
With donations growing, the organization will be expending its food storage space in the near future.
Meyers also has started a b’nai mitzvah project, welcoming those seeking volunteer hours for their upcoming simcha. The children raise $150 and buy healthy snacks with that money and then pack the treats up for donations, he said.
Always seeking more ways to help others, Meyers acknowledged that “we are not going to be able to end hunger, but we can put a Band-Aid on hunger. I feel happy we can help, but I feel there is always more we can do.”