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Despite having some of the richest counties their size in the country, Southern Maryland still has folks who go hungry.

At the first meeting of the Hub & Spoke Task Force for Southern Maryland, task force and community members discussed the issues facing the fight against hunger.

Task Force Chairwoman Christine Bergmark, executive director of the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, led a discussion at the July 31 meeting about reaching hungry people and who the region’s hungry people are, where food can be stored for drop-off sites and how farmers can get tax deductions when they donate produce.

“I’m sure there are groups out there who have already been identified [who are in need],” Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles) said.

SMADC’s Mindy Waite said that some food bank pantries in the region would take more fresh food donations if they had the storage and space.

Del. Sally Y. Jameson (D-Charles) asked if a survey of what the food banks need would be compiled, and Waite said yes but that the plan is for a more detailed survey at a later date.

“So, ... the food banks have now an inadequate supply to meet the need?” Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance asked. Hance also asked if the demand for donations is higher than food banks can meet.

According to Brenda DiCarlo, director of the Southern Maryland Food Bank, food banks were 240,000 pounds short of demand in general this year.

“People would get it if it was available and accessible to them all year long,” DiCarlo said.

The ability to supply the donations is the problem, said John May, senior vice president of operations for the Maryland Food Bank. May added that not many food banks have the ability to haul supplies where they are needed. Most food banks also are not open seven days a week and are staffed by few people when they are open once or twice a month. He suggested the task force get local churches involved to supplement services.

Bernie Fowler Jr., founder of Farming 4 Hunger, said the first mobile drop-off site would be held Aug. 2 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Prince Frederick. It served fresh sweet corn, potatoes, green beans and cantaloupe to more than 300 hungry people, according to event organizers.

Farming 4 Hunger worked with two churches and picked two dates to deliver 7,000 pounds of food. Fowler said he knows of 42 churches in Southern Maryland willing to be drop-off sites.

Middleton said that infrastructure is needed to get food to the needy.

Fowler added that he gets calls from farmers who want to donate food, especially when heat or rain threatens their crops. Youth and inmates, as well as volunteers, are helping to load trucks with donated food and unload them at drop-off sites. Farming 4 Hunger will not be set up for 42 church drop-off sites this year, Fowler said, because the organization does not have enough trucks.

May said the drop-off site program has been around for five years.

“The new twist is we didn’t do it that smart, and Bernie brought smarts to the table,” said May, who added that the program should be kept local and maintained by connections in the community.

Fowler said his organization has 48 trucks to haul food, and that he learned last year from the expense of using the trucks the importance of keeping the program as local as possible.

May said he does not think distribution is a problem. Food can be sent out until “the need is met.”

“As long as the sites are on the schedule ahead of time, meeting the needs of the sites is easy,” May said.

Fowler said the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs offered to allow their parking lot to be a drop-off site; therefore, some infrastructure is available.

May said he works with 53 local farms, but only three farms use food donations as a nonprofit mission.

“To open this up wider so more farms can participate [will bring larger food variety],” May said. Many farms want to participate but cannot due to economic constraints.

Hance said farmers have many expenses when it comes to harvesting and shipping produce.

The group also discussed that not all community members are church members, and who else the task force should reach out to.

May suggested senior centers. Fowler added that churches have a lot of connections with community groups and could probably connect the task force with other groups that are in need.

“We can keep this simple,” Fowler said. “I think we need to keep this relatively simple.”

May said he has reached out to departments of health for their assistance as drop-off sites, but hospitals and health clinics do not have time.

Middleton suggested using school parking lots as drop-off sites, because schools advocate healthy eating and preventing diabetes, and the schools are closed for summer so parking lots sit empty. Schools also have refrigerators for storage.

Fowler said local boards of education would have to be contacted, and Middleton suggested board members be invited to the task force.

DiCarlo said she knows of schools already willing to help feed needy people.

“We’re moving produce in June, July, August, so the schools are closed, the parking lots are empty. It’s ideal,” Fowler said.

Middleton said that before the task force decides how many drop-off sites to have, the number of people to serve should be determined.

“The difference is who do we serve and who is our target audience?” May said. He added that the task force should target the working poor, residents who do not qualify for government assistance but are not making enough income to feed their families. May said 5 percent of people who come to food banks probably do not actually need services but that food banks do not ask questions.

DiCarlo informed the group that each food bank decides what information to collect from residents depending on which grants the food bank wants to apply for.

“They feel if someone has humbled themself to a need, then they feel they don’t need to pry into their life,” DiCarlo said. She added that the work each food bank does is a mission to help the needy, but food banks need grant money to sustain themselves.

Word of mouth spreads when a food bank asks a lot of questions, DiCarlo said, and then people who need help will not come. Every program is subject to some kind of abuse, but those who abuse the system will be judged by a higher power, she said.

Cathy Ring, a member of End Hunger in Calvert County, said her organization focuses on the 90 of 100 people who do not abuse the system, not the 10 who do.

At the end of their first meeting, the task force decided to meet monthly, on a regular date to be determined.

rbarnabi@somdnews.com