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Three Cold Storage Trailers Change the Fresh Food Landscape for Prince George’s County

By Tess Kerkhof, Food Equity Council Communications Intern

Last week, the Prince George’s County Food Equity Council (FEC) welcomed new infrastructure into Prince George’s County: three cold storage food trailers. Supplying valuable fresh food storage space, the trailers will expand capacity for community partners to receive and distribute food. 

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The cold storage trailer in Brandywine. The trailer above, as well as the additional two trailers, were painted by artist Whitney Frazier who worked with members of the community to design and paint the trailers. 

18 months after the first known coronavirus case in Prince George’s County, the work of restoring the community is ongoing. COVID-19 exacerbated existing social, health, and economic inequities and intensified the food insecurity crisis faced by the most vulnerable members of our community. In turn, systems of support have risen throughout the county; grocery distributions, free meals, and grassroots networks of mutual aid have surfaced to support county residents. This work is essential but often impeded by infrastructural limitations like storage capacity and complications of timing. 

At the start of the pandemic, the FEC started convening food assistance providers to support their work distributing food to the increasing number of residents impacted by the worsening pandemic. “What we heard, again and again, was that cold storage was the missing piece in our food distribution puzzle,” commented Sydney Daigle, FEC Director. This infrastructure gap limited healthy food distribution and caused unnecessary food waste. If a food assistance provider doesn’t have access to cold storage, their distributions must rely on shelf-stable goods, which end up being less nutritious for the community. Another complication lies in logistics; if a distribution is dependent on a fresh food delivery that doesn’t come on time or can’t be distributed in its entirety, food goes to waste.

Looking to support immediate and long-term food security needs that arose during the pandemic, Washington Gas funded non-profit organizations, including the FEC, that were directly supporting residents and communities in a variety of ways. Inspired by a similar cold storage project launched in Riverdale, the FEC used this funding to purchase additional cold storage trailers in areas of the county that needed the infrastructure. FEC identified three community partners to host the trailers: Key to Karma, Inc. in Brandywine, Shabach! Emergency Resource Center in Landover, and Trinity Assembly of God in Lanham. Each trailer host site received funding to purchase, upgrade, and design a wrap for their exteriors. The 58 x 8ft trailers are now operating at each of these community sites and will be shared by neighboring organizations. 

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Gwen Pope from Shabach! Emergency Resource Center. speaking at the July 20th event in Lanham. (Photo by William Jennings).

Last week, on July 20th, the FEC hosted a ribbon-cutting event to celebrate the new trailers and the community partners that made the project a reality. Hosted at the Lanham trailer, the event brought together regional leaders, non-profit organizers, and community change-makers with messages of hope. The event featured remarks from project partners including Sydney Daigle, Director of the FEC, and Blue Jenkins, President of Washington Gas, and elected officials, including Senator Pinsky,
District 22, and Prince George’s County Council Member Todd M. Turner (District 4), as well as trailer host sites, including Gwen Pope from Shabach! Emergency Resource Center, Pastor Tino Cione from Trinity Church of God, and Captain Levi Carson from Key to Karma, Inc.

“These trailers are community connectors, reflecting the spirit of helping each other out, and the acts of giving and caring that we each embrace,” said Mr. Jenkins on the day of the event. Echoing this sentiment, Ms. Daigle recognized the individuals and organizations that made this work possible: “The work that we do at [the Institute for Public Health Innovation] and the Food Equity Council, is partnership-driven, and this project really could not be a better example of that work or a better example of how organizations working in true partnership and deep collaboration are stronger than the sum of their parts.”

Trailer host partners spoke about how the new trailers will make a difference in their day-to-day food distribution operations. While previously, partners had to innovate through band-aid solutions, the trailers provide lasting infrastructure to bring more healthy food to residents in need. “I had to put 60 pallets in my lobby and turn [(the AC]) down to below 50 [degrees]  just to keep them overnight because … we didn’t want to lose the food,” said Pastor Tino Cione. “Now we’ll be able to store [food] longer and provide it to more individuals in need,” commented Captain Carson. 

In her remarks, Ms. Daigle noted the long road ahead to improving food security in the county. “These trailers are not the end to the challenges we see in the food system in the county, however, I do hope that they represent a beginning for reimagining what's possible when we address food security in a more systematic and collaborative way.” Ms. Daigle closed her remarks by saying. “This project acts not only as a direct action for a healthier Prince George’s County, but another step towards a more resilient and self-sustaining food system.”  

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Project partners and elected officials pose in front of the Lanham trailer at the event on July 20th. (Photo by William Jennings). 

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