MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — More than 40,000 children in Montgomery County just don't have enough to eat. One organization working to bring that number down is Kids in Need Distribution, also known as KIND. The team at KIND is doing its part to make an impact on young lives.
"This county is full of incredible poverty," said Jeremy Lichtenstein, KIND's founder. "I grew up in this county and it's been one of the richest counties in the United States -- whether it be Fairfax or Montgomery County, it's always one and two. Then I started doing some follow-up research and I said, 'Oh my God,'" he said.
That's when the father of two and Bethesda-based realtor started KIND, with the belief that child hunger is intolerable.
"At the time, I think like 10 years ago, we had about 150,000 kids on a free and reduced meal plan in Montgomery County schools, which is about a third of the kids in the schools, which completely blew my mind," Lichtenstein said.
He got to work right away, starting with one elementary school.
"I called my kid's principal when they were going to school. I asked him if I could do a pilot program at his school, which was delivering food for the neediest kids," Lichtenstein said. "He said sure. I talked to the counselor and she said, 'There's 37 kids I can think of right off the top of my head, why don't we start with that'"
Borrowing a friend's pickup truck, he began making trips to the grocery store and dropping off food items for students supported by the free and reduced meal program.
His efforts continued to expand. KIND now serves 27 schools and about 3,000 students. KIND has dozens of volunteers and a fleet of at least 50 vehicles.
The need is great. Lichtenstein says in some of the schools he works with, 97% of the school is on the free and reduced meal plan. When schools were closed during the pandemic, the need was even greater.
In the 2020-2021 school year alone, KIND provided nearly $400,000 in assistance to students.
"Schools were closed for a long time and the kids need food, families need food, so we pivoted to gift cards from local grocery stores," Lichtenstein said. "It was almost like we never missed a step."
Lichtenstein said it's the heartwarming letters from the families expressing gratitude that keep him going strong. As long as there's a need, KIND is ready to serve.
"If we weren't in so much need, I'd probably back off a little bit, but I just want to feed as many kids as I can feed as fast as I can."
WUSA9's next Giving Matters food drive is on Wednesday, July 27, at the Giant on Rockville Pike. You can come out and donate from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. All food donations will benefit the Manna Food Center.