“It’s like feast or famine, and it’s very frustrating,” Jan Stritzinger of Bowie said of donations to the Bowie Interfaith Pantry, where she volunteers.
The pantry has struggled to get food supplies for people in need donated on a consistent basis, and although the holiday season brings a rise in contributions, volunteers are urging people to continue their efforts year-round.
“A lot of our clients are out of work. A lot are underemployed,” said Debbie Langdon, the facility’s director, noting that the pantry is seeing an increase in clients. “Rents are high, mortgages are high. Once they’ve paid that and their utilities, there isn’t much left over for food.”
This year, the pantry is helping about 1,500 families, most of whom are from Bowie, Langdon said. The 1,500 clients mark a sharp rise from the roughly 700 clients the facility supported in 2010, she said. During summer 2011, the pantry saw a surge that put the center at about 1,500 clients and since then the number has remained at that level, Langdon said.
The community-based pantry program, which has been in the city since the 1960s, is located at 3120 Belair Drive.
Page Crosland, a spokeswoman with the Capital Area Food Bank, which helps support food pantries across the national capital region, said pantries struggle to keep up donations after the holidays and rely on strong support during the holidays to support long-term efforts.
To tackle the seasonal shifts in giving, the Bowie pantry has multiple community efforts aimed at encouraging donations and raising awareness of the continuing need for food supplies year-round. For example, the pantry offers shelf “adoptions,” seeking people or groups willing to supply all of the items listed on a shelf or one particular item, such as peanut butter or pasta sauce.
“We’re seeing increased need, but we’re also seeing the generosity of people who want to help,” Langdon said.
During the summer, the cupboards and shelves of the pantry were stripped bare as a combination of demand and lack of giving forced the pantry to spend as much as $2,000 per month to fill the pantry’s shelves, Langdon said.
“It’s very frustrating when you have these periods of famine,” Stritzinger said.
Prince George’s County ranks fourth worst in terms of food insecurity compared to other Maryland counties, according to Feeding America, a hunger relief charity based in Chicago. Roughly 15 percent of the county’s population, or 129,060 people, have unreliable access to nutritious food, according to a June study released by the group.
With the holiday season’s arrival, donations have crept back up to a point where the shelves of the pantry are once again stocked with everything from peanut butter and canned goods to cake and breads.
“It’s great that we get this much around the holiday, but people eat 365 days a year,” said pantry volunteer Sarah Crim of Bowie.