Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun
The stranger's words hit her hard.
Katie Beltz was touring blighted neighborhoods in east Baltimore as part of a photography project with Goucher College, where she was studying. Walking around, she encountered a woman who said she had a great house and was really proud to live in Baltimore even though she lived near rows of abandoned, boarded-up homes.
"She said to me, 'You are the guys that are going to figure out how to deal with this,'" Beltz said. She realized then that, though young, she could help. And that she had to help.
She came to the Maryland Food Bank three years ago; she wasn't even completely sure how it worked. But with much freedom from her boss, John May, the senior vice president of operations, she has transformed the mobile food programs, which deliver 6,000-18,000 pounds of food to low-income communities during each giveaway. When Beltz started, there were 200 giveaways a year, distributing about 1.2 million pounds of food. Now, there are 700 giveaways a year, delivering 4.2 million pounds of food across the state.
"You just say, 'Yes,' and you figure out how to do it," said Beltz, who lives in Patterson Park and is also active with Rotary-sponsored service club Rotaract. "There's always a search for what we can do to make it bigger and better."
Beltz, an Americorps and Volunteer Maryland vet who drove down to New Orleans to volunteer right after Hurricane Katrina, has seen the wide swath of people who benefit from her program: children, families, single parents, old people. People who used to run pantries who now need the pantries themselves.
Beltz talks with many of the people receiving food. Their stories always vary, their circumstances understandable and relatable.
"One thing that sticks with me is how I'm probably that close to being that person also," she said. "I'm not immune to them or their situation. I could be standing where they are."
Beltz's goals are still lofty, but they always have been. The original goal last year, met under her guidance, was to deliver 4.2 million pounds of food. It is 6 million for this year, but Beltz's boss is already projecting that they'll deliver 8 million pounds.
And Beltz wants to expand, to make sure she's reaching those who need her services the most.
"I want to be able to say that I know where the neighborhoods are that need help and that we're going to them," she said.
Always, bigger is better.