’Tis the season — for food banks -- Gazette.Net


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This story was corrected on Nov. 26.

The number of people turning to food banks for assistance continues to grow in Maryland, even as some of the facilities struggle to keep up with demand, according to those who run the pantries.

“It’s pretty busy around here,” Allison Anderson, development manager at the Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg, said last week. “We always say around here, ‘Hunger doesn’t take a holiday.’”

During the holiday season, people remember to help out those in need, but that need doesn’t stop, she said.

“Demand continues to rise despite the news we see of the economy coming back,” said Kate Sam, director of communications for the Maryland Food Bank, which supplies food to pantries in the state.

“Knock on wood, donations have been really good,” Sam said. “The problem is, even with the larger donations we’re getting, as fast as it comes in it goes right back out because the demand is outpacing the donations.”

Two years ago, the Maryland Food Bank distributed 1.3 million pounds of food. Last year, it handed out more than 4.2 million pounds, and is on pace to surpass that this year, Sam said.

Many of those who go hungry and need assistance are children, said Anne Sheridan, director of the No Kid Hungry campaign in Maryland for Share our Strength, a nonprofit organization seeking to end childhood hunger.

State programs to provide breakfasts and lunches to needy students, funded in part by U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, have helped, Sheridan said.

But such programs have faced potential cuts during the federal budget talks, she said.

“We’re trying to make strong arguments of the assistance food programs have played in this economic downturn,” Sheridan said.

Advocates are lobbying congressional representatives to make sure the programs are preserved, she said.

“We’re certainly aware children don’t have lobbyists, and that’s why we think it’s so important for people to let Congress know to protect these programs,” she said. “We need to be their voice.”

Earlier this year, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Baltimore said that she wanted to make sure the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is fully funded by reducing payments to companies that provide crop insurance instead. The amendment failed, however.

“As a former social worker, I know the importance of nutrition assistance to those who need it most and have continued to fight to support it,” Mikulski said in an emailed statement. More than 313,000 Maryland residents receive assistance averaging $264 per month through the federal program.

The Manna organization in expected to provide food to 300 families between Monday and Wednesday last week, Anderson said.

Despite the increased demand, Montgomery County residents are “really pitching in” with donations of cash and food, Anderson said.

In the past three months, 13,727 people were served by the Manna Food Center, 600-plus more than were aided during the same period last year.

“People are still struggling in this economy,” Anderson said. “We’re seeing a lot of families that were middle class or families that used to donate to us are coming in now for assistance.”

On the day before Thanksgiving at the Manna Food Center, Shelly Duckett, 43, of Germantown said it was her first visit to the pantry. Duckett, a single mother of two who is on disability, said she needed the extra food the center provides to help her get through the holidays.

“This is a wonderful program,” she said.

Agnes Morral, volunteer coordinator at Cumberland’s Interfaith Pantry, an emergency food center for those in need, said her group was “doing OK” with donations, even though she estimated that “double to triple” the number of people are coming in since the recession hit in 2007.

The Interfaith Pantry has seen as many as 26 families a day, Morral said.

The pantry, which serves only Cumberland residents, has seen an influx of people moving into the area from across the country, Morral said.

“I don’t know why they’re moving here; the economy has been bad here for a long time,” she said.

Even though demand has grown, the pantry has been able to help those seeking it.

“People here are generous,” Morral said.

The pantry is for emergency use, and members of the public can draw upon it four times a year.

In Prince George’s County, the Fort Washington Food Pantry, one of more than a dozen operated by churches in the county, has kept up with growing demand, thanks to the generosity of the community, said Jane Hudnall, food manager at the volunteer organization located at St. John’s Episcopal Church. However, the generosity that people show around the holidays is needed year-round, she said.

“We’re so blessed this time of year, and then about April the shelves are bare,” she said.

The food pantry, supported by the congregations of an Episcopal church and a Lutheran church, buys food from the Capital Area Food Bank for 17 cents per pound. About 50 to 60 families are assisted each week — five years ago she estimates it was 20 to 30 families. The organization has about 50 volunteers.

In Frederick County, nine food banks have been struggling to keep up with needy families.

About 1,400 families received meals from the county’s food banks in 2010, but the number has grown to about 1,500 this year, according to the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs, a group of county churches that helps the needy.

While some area food banks have maintained their necessary levels, others, like the Frederick Food Bank, where donations are down 30 percent from last year, have not, Director Sarah McAleavy said last week.

The Frederick Food Bank, in the Frederick Community Action Agency, serves about 650 people a month, but has collected just 25,000 pounds of food, said McAleavy, who noted that staff might have to purchase food to make it through the year.

“This is our Christmas,” she said. “In a perfect world, this should get us through the winter. There are so many people in need because of the economy.”

Staff Writer Sherry Greenfeld contributed to this report.

cford@gazette.net

The story had the wrong address for the Manna Food Center. It is located in Gaithersburg.