Columbia Community Care Grows to Meet Community Needs

On March 11, 2020, Wilde Lake High School Spanish teacher Erika Chavarria posted a tweet: “If they close HCPSS I volunteer to run meals to students and families who are in need, or help in locations where food will be offered. Who is with me???”

On Saturday at 8:30 AM, thirty minutes before customers can come, Ms. Kirk (left) and a volunteer, Mr. Jacques Moutome (right), plan how they will organize the tables. (Zoe MacDiarmid)

Schools closed just two days later and Ms. Chavarria began working on what is now known as Columbia Community Care, or CCC. After two years, the group is still growing and responding to need in the community, which highlights systemic injustices, according to Ms. Chavarria. Every Saturday, CCC runs three distribution centers — Wilde Lake Interfaith Center, Long Reach Village Center, and Oakland Mills Middle School — and grocery delivery services. 

According to Ms. Chavarria, some of the families the group helps are “barely making it,” even while working full-time jobs. Some families are still trying to decide whether they pay the electric bill or provide food, says Ms. Chavarria. With CCC, she says they can choose the electric bill.

In 2020, the average household income in Howard County was $124,042, according to the Census. However, this doesn’t tell the full story. Free and Reduced Meals, otherwise known as FARMs, is available to students who fall within certain income brackets. For a family of four, the household income must be $51,338 or less. The only factors that are considered are the number of people in a household and gross income. 

In 2021, 23.1% of all students in Howard County and 40.3% of Wilde Lake High School students received FARMs benefits. 

Wilde Lake Interfaith Center site coordinator Andy Levine, an employee at the Department of Defense, says there is a misconception about the wealth of Howard County. “I think a lot of people think, ‘Oh, Howard County, it’s a rich town. It’s one of the richest counties in Maryland,’” said Mr. Levine. “So, there’s this: everyone should have all the resources they need. But really, you’d be surprised.”

At each distribution center, there are five or six tables, which are organized based on the food group or household item. (Zoe MacDiarmid)

According to Mr. Levine, essential items like toilet paper, oil, and paper towels are always in high demand. 

During quarantine, businesses in Columbia were struggling, too. Soon after March 13, CCC began to buy meals from the majority of local Black and Brown businesses to give to families, which would feed the families and help keep the businesses afloat during a turbulent time. 

Alongside providing resources, part of CCC’s mission is to bring people together. Kathleen Kirk, a Wilde Lake Site Coordinator and social worker, began volunteering at CCC in December 2020 at Bethel Church. 

“I’ve met a lot of people through volunteering that otherwise I would not have any connection to,” said Ms. Kirk. “I think it has shown me that, yes, there’s a lot of people in need. There are also a lot of people willing to help. You just have to give people opportunities.” 

At the front of every distribution center, there are “greeters” to offer customers masks, gloves, and snacks. At Long Reach, Emma Dong waits to greet everyone. (Zoe MacDiarmid)


Providing the opportunity to help the community has motivated people from the start, according to Director of Operations  Ms. Feroli, who says there are several people who have been volunteering since the spring of 2020. 

Claude Moutome, a Baltimore City middle school Math teacher and General Site Coordinator, says he has made it a point to capture the volunteers’ hard work throughout the pandemic through photos. 

“[Volunteering for CCC] has shown me the pure, genuine love between the people in Columbia,” said Mr. Moutome. “You can see that people really want to help.”

Ms. Chavarria says the group has only just started. She hopes to one day create a physical space for the community, originally inspired by a Chicago community center. 

Through time, Ms. Chavarria says CCC’s mission has stayed the same: to help the community. 

“I’m excited that we’re still going. It’s really, really incredible to me,” said Ms. Feroli. “Two years ago, people would be like, ‘Oh, you know, in a few months, people will go away, people will fall off, volunteers will stop. They haven’t stopped. We’re still here, we have the potential for growth, and we have quite a bit of support in the community that will help us get there.”