The Maryland Food Bank broke ground Tuesday on a 6,000-square-foot, commercially equipped kitchen that will allow the nonprofit agency to turn fresh donations from area markets into about 1 million free meals a year.
The $1.3 million facility at the food bank's headquarters in Halethorpe is expected to be completed in the spring and will also be used to train workers in food preparation.
"We have many food markets willing to donate, but we have nowhere to turn the food into meals," said Audra Harrison, the food bank's spokeswoman. "With a kitchen, we can accept those donations and then prepare, package and freeze nutritious meals."
The food bank often receives offers of large portions of meat but must turn those down for lack of preparation and storage space in its warehouse.
"This kitchen is an absolutely revolutionary idea that will mean tremendous outreach to our partners," Harrison said.
The kitchen staff - a chef and two assistants - will prepare frozen casseroles, stews and other dishes for the food pantries, soup kitchens, emergency shelters, low-income day care centers, after-school programs, senior centers, and rehabilitation centers that the bank serves, she said.
"This means we can really attack the roots of hunger in Maryland," Harrison said.
The kitchen staff will also offer training in food preparation. The culinary courses and on-the-job experience will lead to a certification that will make trainees more attractive to employers, Harrison said.
Maryland Food Bank, which began in 1979, provides the needy with about 50,000 pounds of food weekly.
In 2008, the food bank spokeswoman said, it gave away 16.7 million pounds of food and has set a goal of 18.2 million pounds for this year.
"We have made tremendous strides, but to effectively end hunger in Maryland, we would have to give away 79 million pounds," Harrison said.