Frederick hunger, homeless needs growing -- Gazette.Net



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Before entering the Frederick Rescue Mission’s recovery program, James Weedon Jr. said he struggled with alcohol addiction.

Thanksgiving meals for the needy

The following agencies are offering Thanksgiving meals for the needy:The Frederick Rescue Mission, at 419 West South St., Frederick, will host a free Thanksgiving dinner from noon to 4 p.m. today. All volunteer slots have been taken. For more information, call 301-695-6633.The Frederick Community Action Agency, 100 South Market St., will also hold a free meal from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. today. Those interested in volunteering should contact Teresa Ismac at tismach9@aol.com. For more information, call 301-600-1506.

About three years ago, Weedon said his addiction caused him to lose his job and eventually his home. He was forced to stay with friends before finding a recovery program that allowed him to get back on his feet.

Weedon, 54, said he enrolled in the Rescue Mission’s 12-month program, which helped him give up alcohol and smoking cigarettes and secure a job and a stable place to live.

Weedon graduated in 2010, and now works as an intern at the Frederick Rescue Mission on South Street, helping others in need.

“The smile on their face, knowing I can help them [is incredible],” Weedon said. “Knowing I’m involved in doing that — it’s a blessing.”

Part of Weedon’s duties as an intern include loading and unloading trucks, organizing donations and performing other tasks.

“They consider me as staff,” Weedon said. “That’s a trip, that somebody would need me. They’re like my family.”

Some of the donations Weedon was organizing on Thursday will be distributed during the Rescue Mission’s annual Thanksgiving meal, according to Arnold Farlow, executive director of the mission.

He said the mission distributed more than 200 boxes with all of the trimmings for a Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday, and would see several hundred guests — and volunteers — on the holiday today.

“Thanksgiving’s always busy,” Farlow said, joking that he’d probably have 600 volunteers to feed the 300 or 400 clients needing a meal.

The activities were just two of the many ways the mission was participating in Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month, organized by the Frederick County Coalition for the Homeless.

Joey Hoffman, a member of the advocacy committee for the coalition, said the group decided to extend the promotion, which is recognized as a weeklong event nationally, because of the need in the county.

“This year we decided because the need is so great, and the economic situation is causing more people to be homeless, hungry and in poverty, we just decided one way of hoping to increase awareness would be to have a longer period of time,” Hoffman said.

The month of events included food drives, benefit dinners and a poverty simulation at Hood College, where students and other participants were shown examples of the effects of poverty.

And while the effort is designed to bring awareness in November, Farlow, Hoffman and other advocates said it’s important to help all year long.

“It’s kind of funny because people tend to pay attention at the holidays,” Farlow said. “Come January, it’s the same people hungry — maybe even a little more.”

Farlow said the mission is serving twice as many meals in 2012 as in 2007 — 130,000 compared to 65,000. Last year, the mission served 117,000 meals.

Other organizations, such as the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs have seen similar growth, according to the Rev. Brian Scott, executive director of the coalition.

He said people should be aware that the coalition and other services need help almost every day, not just at Thanksgiving and Christmas, with about 1,500 people in the county using the food banks at some point during the year.

“We’re encouraging people to drop off food at local food banks not only during homeless awareness month but during the year,” Scott said. “That’s one of the things we’d encourage people to do, to drop off a bag of groceries or some canned food items. It really makes a difference if families are able to feed their families or not.”

Scott said the need for food and assistance has soared over the last five years — more than double the number of people are coming to ask for food or other help in 2012 compared with 2007, but resources are harder to come by.

Between all the programs the coalition runs or helps to run — including the cold weather shelter, aid to keep families from becoming homeless and health care assistance — the coalition offered help to nearly 5,000 county residents.

In 2011, the shelter helped 1,000 families avoid becoming homeless. But Scott said the number of families coming to the coalition for help continues to increase, despite the group having less money.

“Now they come directly to us,” Scott said. “There’s less dollars available to try to bridge the gap, and our costs to prevent that family from becoming homeless has increased ... the numbers are not declining. They’re increasing.”

The final event, to be held Sunday at 2 p.m. is a performance by Sweet Honey in the Rock at the Weinberg Center for the Arts. Proceeds will benefit the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs. Tickets are available at the Weinberg Center, and via its website, www.weinbergcenter.org.

tlaino@gazette.net