Dragon Boats race in bay to end hunger in Calvert

It takes teamwork for a group of paddlers to guide a Dragon Boat effectively, efficiently and quickly through the Chesapeake Bay. Likewise, it takes a community working together to tackle the sometimes invisible but nonetheless significant problem of hunger in Calvert County.
Thus, the inception of the annual End Hunger Dragon Boat Festival, the second of which was held in North Beach on Saturday, June 21, inspiring the Twitter hashtag #GiveWhereYouLive; inexperienced paddlers to form teams, literally racing to end hunger; and community members as well as local businesses and organizations to turn out and unite to raise money.
“It’s all about your time,” said Jacqueline Miller, director of awareness for End Hunger in Calvert County and a key planner of the event. “You can get a boat full of musclemen out there and if they’re not in sync, the next boat is gonna pass them.”
Throughout the day, teams of about 17 people headed off two at a time on the long, thin vessels, slicing through the bay within sight of the boardwalk as onlookers cheered them on with a street lined with vendors and entertainment behind them.
More than 30 teams participated, said the Rev. Robert Hahn of Chesapeake Church, CEO of End Hunger — about twice as many as last year’s inaugural festival.
Every dollar of each team’s $2,000 registration fee went to End Hunger’s mission, as sponsors underwrote the cost of the event, eliminating the overhead for the organization to cover, Miller said.
For Hahn, the organization crosses political, religious and socioeconomic borders to annihilate hunger and create a “total unity of Calvert County” and fill what he said is a million-pound food gap here, all on a local level.
“It really just symbolizes how the county has adopted the problem of solving hunger in the county,” he said. “So for us, it’s all about ‘give where you live’ and how local businesses and local organizations help a local charity to solve a local problem.”
End Hunger, a partnership among local churches, charities, schools, businesses and government officials who share its mission, uses the funds raised from the Dragon Boat Festival and other events like it to purchase food at deep discounts from Safeway, Giant, Food Lion, Maryland Food Bank and Capital Area Food Bank to help stock Calvert food pantries at no charge, Hahn said.
He maintains that hunger is not an issue that stems from an insufficient amount of food but, rather, from a lack of distribution and awareness.
For this reason, co-captain of Team Toucan Elena Russo said her team decided to strive to raise money beyond just the initial registration fee.
From their booth decked out in tropical decorations, the team auctioned off a big bushel of colossal crabs, offered games for children and more.
“No one should be going without the basic necessities of life,” Russo, of Pasadena, said. “We can get together and have a good time like this, have some friendly competition in the water, dress up in these ridiculous costumes and help raise money to help those people who can’t put food on the table. I mean, what better cause is there?”
Team Toucan’s motto sums up the logic behind its name: “If we can, you too can end hunger in Calvert County.”
While Team Toucan was a returning team, the Missyfits were first-time participants whose captain, Melissa Miller of Chesapeake Beach, said she would “do it again in a second.”
She said she solicited donations from local businesses to cover her team’s registration fee — Mexico Restaurant and the Tiki Bar were contributors — and rounded up some team members about a month before race time.
“It’s something that we all need to work on; we all need to become more socially conscious,” Melissa Miller said. “It’s a difficult world out there, and we all need to work together to make sure everybody is fed, warm and happy.”
According to the festival’s website, its sponsors included American Legion Stallings-Williams Post 206; Audio Plus; Bay Business Group; Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa; Chesapeake Church; Crow Entertainment; Curtis Homes; Early Bird Home Services LLC; Exelon Generation; Githens and Associates; Gradient Construction; Honda of Bowie; Nissan of Bowie; NRG; Sisk Auto Body; Sneade’s ACE Home Center; S.J. Johnson; Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative; Smoothie King; and the towns of Chesapeake Beach and North Beach.
Although the total amount raised was not yet calculated as of press time, Hahn projected the festival would net between $40,000 and $50,000.
“We try and do the things that no one else is doing so that we kind of stand out because we want the whole county to own the problem, and they do,” he said. “Now they own the solution, which is even better.”