According to data, 17.4 million households in the United States were food insecure last year, and 6.9 million experienced very low food security. And in Delaware, one in eight people struggled with hunger.
But despite what organizations like Feeding America were reporting, Bethany Beach resident Ann Raskauskas wasn’t aware that the issue was so prominent in her backyard until she saw it face to face.
That’s when she launched the Neighbors in Need charity, right in the parking lot of Bethany Area Realty on Route 26, where she works as a Realtor.
“I had a lady who came into my office last year,” Raskauskas recalled the early days of the organization. “She had four kids and none of them had eaten in five days.”
Through donations, the charity generated enough food for the Ocean View resident and her children through donations from the community until the family was able to get back on their feet — which has been the goal since its inception now around two years ago.
Interestingly enough, one of the area’s newest philanthropisst got her start after perhaps its most influential philanthropist had passed away, as she sought to honor the legacy of the late Matt Haley by asking herself what she could do to help the community.
“He did so much charity work,” Raskauskas explained. “I was trying to figure out what I could I do to honor him — hunger is a huge problem, I didn’t realize there was such a need locally.”
To help combat the issue, Raskauskas began renting a truck and parking it a Bethany Area Realty on the first Sunday of each month, asking the community to drop off canned goods and nonperishable items that are then collected and taken to the Helping Hands Food Bank in Frankford.
Since then, Neighbors in Need has grown to partner with events like the Fenwick Island Turkey Trot and to go on to help and average of over 500 people each week. Of those 500, Raskauskus estimated that 40 to 50 end up being emergency cases, and around 150 families are donated to regularly ever week. Most people receiving donations, however, are just everyday families that are simply facing difficult times and need a little help.
“They’re all working people,” Raskauskus said. “Most of them have just fallen on hard times because they’ve been laid off or they have medical issues and things like that.”
But despite how much the program has already grown since it was started, the need remains constant. Not only does Neighbors in Need accept donations on non-designated donation days, but donations in the form of gift cards and cash are also accepted.
“We’re never gonna turn anything down,” Raskauskus said. “People stop off at my office all month. I come into work a lot of times and there might be five bags of food. By all means, people are welcome to just drop food at my office and we’ll make sure it gets delivered.
“One man comes in every month and gives $100, usually we’re able to turn his $100 into $250 worth of food with coupons.”
This past summer, she got another idea to help collect goods. Noticing a considerable amount of food being left behind by summer renters, Neighbors in Need started offering collections for vacationers leaving town and not bringing their leftovers with them. But just because designation donation days have dropped off from every Sunday from June to August down to the first Sunday of the month from September to May, doesn’t mean that need for donation has dropped off as well.
“Neighbors in Need is really based year-round,” Raskauskus said. “Everybody gives a little bit more around the holidays but if anything the need is going to grow.”
Meeting that growing demand for help wouldn’t be possible however, without a giving community — which is what Raskauskus attributed the program’s success to.
“I really wanna thank the community — the response has been tremendous,” she said. “It’s such a terrific community — they’ve just gone overboard on giving.
“When the food bank was running low on tuna and vegetables I just put it out there on Facebook and within 10 minutes I already have four or five people saying they were gonna drop food off — the people are so supportive, our community is such a giving community.”
To donate to Neighbors in Need visit the drop off center the first Sunday of each month with canned good donations at Bethany Area Realty located at 778 Garfield Parkway in Bethany Beach from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
You can also donate at the Fenwick Island Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning at the Bethany Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce starting at 7:30 a.m. For more on Neighbors in Need, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Neighbors-in-Need-597647913715177/ or call Ann Raskauskus at (302) 537-9700.