Early in the pandemic, Johns Hopkins Home Care Group staff pharmacist Jason Katcoff saw an opportunity to help the community. His children’s school, Krieger Schechter Day School, was collaborating with the Jewish Volunteer Connection to assemble lunches for organizations that feed people who are homeless. Katcoff brought the idea to the Home Care Group’s community outreach committee in hopes of doing something similar. Five events and 1,201 lunches later, the Bunches of Lunches project is still going strong.
“I was grateful for how generous the Home Care Group was. They easily exceeded my expectations,” Katcoff says. “About $5 of supplies makes three lunches, and many people donated much more than that. The shelters greatly appreciated our efforts, and everyone involved had a great time supporting a good cause.”
Katcoff planned the first lunch assembly event for May 2021, when the Jewish Volunteer Connection’s resources would be stretched thinner due to the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. The Home Care Group’s community outreach committee worked out logistics. Then, they began announcing the event and soliciting donations.
“The response was immediate,” Katcoff says. “We had originally aimed for 100 to 200 lunches. As the funds came in, it became clear that 200 lunches would be easily achievable — especially after my wife found a great sale on cookies at a local grocery store.”
Twelve Home Care Group employees gathered at the Holabird cafeteria during the first event. One cluster began decorating bags, giving the lunches a little flair. Others set to work assembling sandwiches. The brown bag lunches included lunchmeat-and-cheese sandwiches with condiments, water bottles, fruit and dessert.
Staff pharmacist Hiang Dawley says Katcoff made volunteering easy.
“It was so well thought out,” Dawley says. “This has created a sense of community, and I’ve been able to make friends through volunteering. It was such a wonderful opportunity for us to do more.”
Dawley says she loved that employees could help in a variety of ways.
“If we’re not able to give our time, we can donate,” Dawley says. “It helps us ensure that we see the community we’re serving and gives us a greater purpose.”
The first group moved like a well-oiled machine, and had 201 lunches in decorated bags packed in about an hour. The following day, more volunteers loaded their cars and delivered the lunches.
Anne Langley, interim director of Charm City Care Connection, an organization that receives some of the meals, says the lunches mean the world to their clients.
“Food is essential,” Langley says. “It’s hard to do anything else when you’re hungry. A steady program like this is so important because it is something our clients can count on, and it helps us reach them with other services.”
Other organizations that have benefited from Bunches of Lunches include the Baltimore Rescue Mission, the Grace Foundation, Manna House, Basilica Place and Living Classrooms Safe Streets.
Pharmacy business manager Tyler DuVal donates her time by decorating the lunch bags.
“We include positive quotes and fun drawings,” she says. “It’s a great volunteer project. It makes you feel good.”
Pharmacy business manager Rachel Holsopple also enjoys decorating the bags.
“I draw a design, and others color it in,” Holsopple says. “I like that I can do it during my downtime at work and help make someone’s day a little bit brighter.”
Each of the four subsequent events was done at a time when the number of regular lunch contributors at Jewish Volunteer Connection was expected to be low due to holidays or other limitations. Events have been held on Labor Day, Thanksgiving weekend, a few days before the Jewish holiday of Purim and near Easter and Passover. Approximately 100 Home Care Group employees have participated in Bunches of Lunches in some way.
Ashley Manning, a pharmacy business manager at the Weinberg Outpatient Pharmacy, says Bunches of Lunches was a fun volunteering opportunity.
“It was casual, and we talked about what we do outside of work,” Manning says. “It was a good opportunity to put faces to names. We got to see people play to their strengths.”
Manning says she is glad her schedule is flexible so she can assist with delivering the lunches.
“I enjoy the moment of transaction,” Manning says. “They thank you so much and let you know how much they appreciate your help. I love that you can donate in other ways than financially. Donating your time is just as worthy.”