So What Else focuses on two key issues to help the Baltimore/Washington Metro Area— youth development and food security. They provide free afterschool care and summer camps for kids, and have a wide-reaching food distribution program that keeps families healthy and fed. Learn more about their community-focused work here!
How did So What Else get its start?
So What Else started in 2009 as a youth development nonprofit focusing on summer camps and afterschool programs. The idea was to help children during those vital time periods where they may not have access to care. Before the pandemic, we had 62 afterschool programs that were mostly in schools or community centers in affordable housing complexes. A week or so before our spring break camp was set to start in 2020, everything shut down. Our programs are so reliant on being in person, and we started reaching out to our programming sites to make a plan. Everyone was so concerned about basic needs. We made activity kits to distribute to kids and collected food donations, which is how the food element of our program began.
Can you tell me about your work increasing food security?
We got tons of food donations during the pandemic that we safely distributed to the community. We had been working out of a community space that was previously used as an afterschool program to store and distribute food, and people caught wind of what we were doing. It naturally snowballed into a food pantry and food distribution mission. Now, we serve 150,000 meals per week, we have a walk-up food pantry where people can pick up food for their families, and we do satellite distributions. The success of the program is sad because it means that there is so much need, but it’s great that we’ve been able to have such a big impact.
What kinds of youth programming do you offer?
We have a holistic range of programs that keep kids engaged and enriched. They have fun while learning about wellness, healthy eating, exercise, mindfulness, expression through art, and STEM. The majority of our participants are residents of the community centers or students at the schools we work in, which is ideal for kids who don’t have access to transportation. One of our goals is to eliminate the red tape— we want it to be easy for people to access our programs. They are entirely free, since cost is often a barrier in these communities. Many of our programming sites offer both afterschool care and food distribution, so kids can access free childcare and bring food home to their families.
What has been the best part of working with So What Else?
I started at So What Else in 2019 as an intern because I had always liked working with children, and I immediately saw how hard-working everyone here is. I’ve stayed with the organization since then and became the Deputy Director during the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, we put our own fears aside to help our community. Whenever I get to visit an afterschool program or a food pantry, it reminds me why I decided to do this in the first place. My goal now is to make our programs as efficient as possible so that we can maximize our impact.