July 11, 2020
If we take our commitment to serving our community and making parking a valued service, then we must live up to those standards in good times as well as hard times.
The employees of Harbor Park Garage in downtown Baltimore did just this when the COVID crises first hit. After drafting and adopting new safety protocols, they set to work to help provide free meals to the community. The program started small with the idea of feeding a few customers who found themselves in a period of sudden need. And it took off from there as a word spread, and the magnitude of the need became apparent. There is no ROI than can be attributed, but then can we put a price of a smile on the face a worried parent or a heartfelt thank you from or even the satisfaction felt by the employees knowing they are making a difference in a difficult time.
Heart of the Park, the free meal giveaway created to meet community needs that emerged due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout, served its last meal on June 30, 2020. The program, which began in late March and overall, served over 20,000 to Baltimoreans in need and those on the front lines.
Heart of the Park is a partnership between Harbor Park Garage, Pierpoint Restaurant & Catering, and the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.
Pierpoint, the beloved Fells Point restaurant helmed by Chef Nancy Longo, provided the meals for Heart of the Park and, as a result of the initiative, was able to not just keep its staff employed during the pandemic, but to increase its payroll.
Chef Longo teamed up with Harbor Park Garage manager Kera Miller to oversee distribution of the meals to the community at the garage. Together, the pair made a formidable team, moving the program forward and helping locals take home boxed lunches and dinners, seven days a week, for the duration of the program.
Meals were also distributed to front line workers at the COVID units of local hospitals and community centers, including Johns Hopkins Hospital, University of Maryland Medical Center, Mercy Medical Center, Northwest Hospital, St. Joe’s Medical Center, the St. Francis Neighborhood Center and The Italian Culture Center and its Be A Chef For A Day program.
The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, under the leadership of Downtown Management Authority President Shelonda Stokes, played an integral role in publicizing and raising funds to support the Heart of the Park initiative. Through the Downtown Partnership, over $55,000 was raised, which helped keep the program going during some of the leanest months the city has seen in its long history.
Now that the city is reopening and Baltimoreans are heading back to work, demand for daily meals is, thankfully, shifting to some of the cities neediest residents.
As the need for meals changes, the organizations behind the Heart of the Park initiative are shifting their focuses back to their original missions: operating a restaurant and a parking garage and supporting the businesses of the downtown district.
However, they recognize and hope to continue to support Chef Longo’s ongoing needs of organizations like the St. Francis Neighborhood Center and The Italian Culture Center. These organizations, and many more, work, day in and day out, to meet the ongoing needs of Baltimore City residents – and need support to ensure those efforts are successful.