Bruce Michalec used to know the delivery route like the back of his hand. But these days, he's driving down unfamiliar roads, as more andmore hungry families line up for food.
The director of Anne Arundel's food bank is delivering supplies to charitable groups in middle-class neighborhoods that once were insulated from scarcity.
Caught in the recession, growing numbers of unemployed and suddenly evicted families have been forced for the first time to seek help, Michalec said.
"We have a whole new group of people in need in this area," he said. "Eviction notices are higher now than they've ever been. Every part of the county seems to be affected by the problem,even places that always seemed immune."
Michalec wants to share that message with the county's General Assembly delegation. He will join more than 300 advocates for the poor and social service providers today at a rally before the State House.
The Maryland Food Committee, a private, non-profit anti-hunger organization, is sponsoring theeighth annual rally to raise awareness about the plight of the poor.Speakers from across the state will lobby legislators to increase support for nutrition programs.
The committee has targeted five programs, including elderly nutrition; the Statewide Nutrition AssistanceProgram, which helps non-profit food banks expand or improve their services; and the federal Special Supplemental Food Program for Women,Infants and Children, or WIC.
More than 2,500 children, college students and social advocates have sent Gov. William Donald Schaefer messages on paper plates encouraging him to provide state money for WIC. By chipping in $450,000 in the next fiscal year, the state could receive additional federal support, said Darold M. Johnson, a public policy specialist with the committee.
WIC advocates already have the support of Delegate Marsha Perry, D-Crofton, who wants to help 46,000 eligible women and infants in Maryland excluded from the program because of limited federal financing. Perry has enlisted 64 co-sponsors, including eight county delegates, for her bill.
Michalec and leaders of other county charities said the need for emergency food is even more overwhelming.
Joanne Richardson, director of My Brother'sPantry on the Broadneck Peninsula, said more than 80 families a month are seeking boxes of emergency food to tide them over at the end ofthe month. The food pantry just received a $1,250 grant from the Maryland Food Committee in December. But Richardson expects the much-needed grant will cover only about two months' worth of food.
"What we are seeing is more families coming in that just aren't making it," she said. "They don't have a big enough paycheck to cover all the bills."
Ruth Gilliam, president of the North County Emergency Network, an ecumenical organization of 28 churches, hears similar stories every week. More people are seeking food than help with rent or electricity bills, she said.
"Organizations are stretched now, and they're going to be stretched more and more with people losing their jobs,"she said.
The food committee is lobbying legislators to reinstate$200,000 cut from the Statewide Nutrition Assistance Program in November. Advocates also want to encourage the state to increase support for the elderly nutrition program, compile health department statistics on malnutrition and rewrite public assistance forms to make them easier to read.