When Christine Poulsen flips through the stacks of leftover yellow index cards, she sees a depressing sign of the times.
Each of the more than 300 cards lists the name and address of a poor family or senior citizen who still needs a Thanksgiving dinner. With the hours ticking by, most of the cards are likely to remain neatly sorted in manila folders.
Hard hit by the economic slump, more families than ever signed up for a Thanksgiving food basket this year, said Poulsen, coordinator of volunteers for the county's Department of Social Services. The agency has co-sponsored Holiday Sharing, a countywide food and gift drive, with the Medical Auxiliary of Anne Arundel County for the past 11 years.
For the first time in the program's history, the demand has sharply outstripped the supply. Although more families requested gift baskets, fewer people, civic groups, companies and schools have offered to donate food.
"This year, the need is just overwhelming," Poulsen said.
She believes the holiday food drive is another victim of the sagging economy. Some families who previously donated Thanksgiving baskets decided they couldn't afford to this year, she said.
At the same time, men and women who have never been on the county's welfare rolls keep calling for help. Most are financially strapped after being laid off this fall, she said.
"We're hearing from people who have never called before," agreed Imelda Herzinger, a 52-year-old volunteer who coordinates Holiday Sharing.
She and Poulsen have been forced to refer those calls to other charitable organizations or churches since the department's program was designed for families on the main federal welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
"We can't take them because we're so overwhelmed," Poulsen said. "If we had any extra donations, we certainly would try to help the others. But we have nothing to spare."
The department already has matched 1,000 needy families and senior citizens with donors. But Poulsen and Herzinger fear they won't be able to provide Thanksgiving dinners for the remaining 300.
Picking up the Annapolis folder, Poulsen shuffled through dozens of cards with a resigned frown. "Normally at this time, we'd only have a few cards left," she said.
In an 11th-hour attempt to match up the remaining 300 families and seniors -- most from Annapolis, Brooklyn Park and Severn -- Poulsen and Herzinger are trying to drum up more donations.
"We don't want anybody going hungry on Thanksgiving or Christmas," Herzinger said. "A lot of people are very strapped this year, and will end up with a kind of bleak holiday, anyway."
Anyone wishing to donate a food basket or money to buy gift certificates at area grocery stores should call the Holiday Sharing program at 974-8711 or 974-8612.