CHESAPEAKE CITY — Every Monday morning, volunteers for the Chesapeake City Ecumenical Association (CCEA) building next to St. Basil Ukrainian Catholic Church work to prepare boxes full of canned food and other supplies for the community. The CCEA, a collaboration between 11 churches in Cecil County, is hoping to expand into the space occupied by the old Chesapeake City Elementary School (CCES), so the association bring together all of its ministries and programs under one roof.

The CCEA’s President, Deborah Forsythe, compared the organization to a tripod, made up of three general programming areas: feeding ministries that provide food aid, educational ministries, and health and wellness ministries. The CCEA currently pays rent to two different locations.

According to Forsythe, the CCEA’s Generation Station after school program would benefit the most from an expansion, as they would move closer to the Chesapeake City residents it serves. The 22 year-old program, which serves students at Bohemia Manor Middle and High School, is currently based at Five Rivers Church in Elkton.

Generation Station focuses on kids who would be unsupervised after school and need a safe place to go, providing academic help, along with activities promoting physical and emotional wellness. Students often give back to the program by volunteering once they graduate or stop participating.

Forsythe said if the CCEA moved into the CCES space they would likely share the building with apartments, an organization such as the library, and small retail stores, in a mixed use environment.

“One vision seems to be high end condos, high end retail, and high end restaurants,” said Forsythe. “When you listen to that conversation, it almost borders on the idea of gentrification. The reality is that any vision must acknowledge that you’re going to need employees, tradesmen, day workers, and that is the core group of people that we are often asked to serve.”

In an April 12 town meeting, Chesapeake City Mayor Richard Taylor said that CCEA is the top non-profit that they are looking at to occupy the space.

“We are not looking for any other similar nonprofits or other activities similar to yours because frankly you are it,” Taylor said to Forsythe. “Don’t feel like you are competing against other entities, if anything you are competing against the overall vision for the property.”

COVID has made things more difficult for the CCEA, as some elderly volunteers are unable to help out, even as the need for food and other items the CCEA supplies increases due to the financial hardship brought on by the pandemic.

Despite these challenges, the CCEA has continued expanding their services, most recently with a food distribution program aimed at Cecil County’s elderly population. On Wednesday, the new program registered 25 seniors at the Canal Town apartment complex in Chesapeake City and the Perry Villa complex in Perryville. Each senior will receive 15-20 items in every supply box, which the CCEA plans to start distributing within two weeks. Perry Villa will receive boxes four times a year and Canal Town will receive boxes every other month.

The CCEA currently serves 50 homes through their two main food ministries, the Food Pantry and “Bag of Hope.” The pantry provides between 50-75 pounds of food a month to each family. Bag of Hope, a bimonthly program in collaboration with the Maryland Food Bank, provides a similar amount of food to families in need.

“I consider it a blessing that I can help other people. It makes me realize how lucky I am,” said volunteer Don Koss.

The CCEA also distributes around 20 mini pantry boxes a month through Chesapeake City Elementary School, providing three to five meals, such as instant oatmeal or ravioli, along with a hygiene package.

“The misconception about this is that these are people who aren’t working, it’s not,” said Forsythe. “We have people who were food service workers who suddenly lost their jobs because of COVID.”

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