After a three-month extensive search process completed by a search and transition committee, the board of directors of the Anne Arundel County Food Bank (AACFB) has chosen Leah Aiello Paley to be the new chief executive officer.
Paley brings demonstrated nonprofit leadership experience to AACFB, most recently serving as the executive director of Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services Inc. (LARS) for the past six years, and as deputy director and director of emergency and homeless services four years prior.
The Voice asked Paley about her nonprofit background and her goals with AACFB.
Q: When did you discover your passion for community service?
A: Community service has been a part of my life since I was a child. I grew up in Albany, New York, and participated in numerous community service opportunities as a child and teen, including volunteering at the local food bank.
After graduating from Providence College, I was selected for an AmeriCorps VISTA position in a Baltimore City elementary school. I had a phenomenal experience building relationships with the students, staff and also with community partners. This service experience motivated me to pursue a master’s degree in social work and eventually led to my being hired by Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services to oversee their emergency and homeless services program.
Q: When you get to have an active role, it makes the work even more rewarding, right?
A: It is a privilege to play a supporting role in helping community members meet their basic needs and beyond. It truly is an honor to positively impact the communities I have served in, and I am thrilled to join the AACFB team and help Anne Arundel County residents experiencing food insecurity.
Q: You’ve helped people with some of the same needs as those served by AACFB. How will that help as you transition to your new role?
A: I am coming to AACFB from an organization that addresses food and housing insecurity in the greater Laurel area, which includes Anne Arundel County residents in Maryland City. I am familiar with county resources, funding streams, and have extensive experience in strategic planning, fundraising and program development. During my tenure at LARS, our operating budget doubled, fundraising revenue from individuals and private foundations increased by 50 percent and the organization piloted an evidenced-based self-sufficiency program that is now in its fifth year of operation. I look forward to putting my expertise to work at AACFB as we build out our services.
Q: What does future growth look like at AACFB?
A: AACFB has experienced exponential growth over the past five years and the pandemic has further exacerbated the need for our services. AACFB has distributed 7.7 million pounds of food throughout Anne Arundel County since the pandemic began, helping meet the needs of 64,000 monthly visits to our partnering food pantries.
Although the need was always high, experiencing rapid growth for our services in such a short time has led to exciting opportunities for AACFB. I am eager to work with the board and staff to build upon the successful foundation they have laid. We will continue to build and strengthen community partnerships and work closely with our government officials to make sure everyone in this county who is experiencing food insecurity has access to food.
Q: AACFB has a critical need for donations right now. How can people help?
A: Anne Arundel County is one of the wealthiest counties in Maryland, and Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in our nation. To hear that 10 percent of the county’s population doesn’t know where the next meal is coming from is alarming and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that all county residents have access to food.
The best ways to help us meet the need in our county are by hosting a food drive or making a monetary donation. Monetary donations to the AACFB allows us to stretch your dollar by purchasing at bulk rates that are much lower than the retail prices. However, when we purchase in bulk, we end up with large quantities of the same item. Food donations from individuals and food drives improve the variety of foods available to the people we serve. It’s our goal to have items that meet a variety of dietary restrictions, cooking abilities, and preferences. Individuals can also support our work by purchasing items from our Amazon and Target wish lists, which can be found at www.aafoodbank.org/donate.
Q: And you live in Severna Park?
A: My husband and I moved from Baltimore to Severna Park six years ago. Our two children attend Oak Hill Elementary School and are active in the local recreational sports league. We love living here and are proud to be members of such a philanthropic community. I always think of the Mr. Rogers quote, “Look for the helpers.” I know so many helpers in my community who pay it forward regularly, and it’s been beautiful to witness the generosity of these helpers. I look forward to partnering with members of the Severna Park community to ensure that all Anne Arundel County residents have access to free and nutritious food.
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