Food donations to the Bags of Plenty holiday season campaign have been far from plentiful, officials at the Maryland Food Bank said yesterday.
As a result, Maryland's needy, whose numbers have increased at least 30 percent over last year, will receive smaller holiday-food baskets.
Bill Ewing, head of the Maryland Food Bank, said its collection of non-perishable food items through the Bags of Plenty program would end today as planned -- although fund raising is continuing through mid-December.
As of yesterday, Mr. Ewing said, the food drive had achieved less than half its goal of 650,000 pounds of donated food and far less thanthe 525,000 pounds collected last year.
"My suspicion is that we tied the campaign too much to Thanksgiving this year and once the holiday was over, people thought the giving was over," he said. "Unless we can dream up some other ways to get food, we'll be giving out smaller baskets this year."
For the last 12 years, the food bank has distributed as much as 6 million pounds of food annually to 750 charitable feeding programs across the state. The food is collected year-round, but the biggest collection in recent years through the Bags of Plenty Campaign, which kicked off a week before Thanksgiving.
So far, according to Mr. Ewing, only 260,000 pounds of food has been collected -- while the number of needy has increased.
Officials at soup kitchens report that they are serving at least 30 percent more people than last year -- especially families with children.
"They are seeing a lot more laid-off workers and people who have never been to a soup kitchen before," said Linda Eisenberg, head of the Maryland Food Committee, which raises money for area food banks and nutrition programs.
But Mr. Ewing did not attribute the decrease in food donations to the weakening economy that underlies the layoffs. "This program has always been successful. Somehow this year we just didn't get the message across.
Meanwhile, monetary donations to the campaign have kept pace with last year, and officials at the food committee hope the momentum of generosity will continue so that they can reach their goal of $150,000 by Dec. 14. As of yesterday, the committee had raised $70,000. The money will be used to provide financial and technical assistance to more than 100 soup kitchens and food pantries across the state.
"We're going to have to keep pushing to let people know of the need," said Ms. Eisenberg. "Now that Thanksgiving is over, people's attention will turn to Christmas and, hopefully, they will remember the needy."
Nearly 700 people responded to the needs of the hungry last night by indulging in a buffet of culinary delights at the annual Food For All fund-raiser at the Stouffer Harborplace Hotel. Officials said it was the largest turnout for the 3-year-old event, and they expected to raise $35,000 for the food bank and food committee.
Those who attended enjoyed an all-you-can-eat buffet of special dishes prepared by 15 chefs from hotel restaurants in Maryland and Washington. Tickets for the event were $40.
How to help
To contribute to the Bags of Plenty campaign, fill a shopping bag with non-perishable grocery items such as canned meats or vegetables. The bag should be delivered to a Giant Food store, a Provident Bank office or a Baltimore City fire station.
A check payable to the Bags of Plenty can be mailed to the Maryland Food Committee, P.O. Box 23709, Baltimore, Md. 21203.