Debbie Taylor knows she has to pay the mortgage and utilities. The single, working mother also knows she has three children to feed.
"It's like a feeling of helplessness," said Taylor, 32. "You know something has to suffer, and in most cases it's your food budget."
For Taylor and her children, ages 9, 8 and 6, making ends meet is a day-to-day struggle.
"I work in a grocery store making $5 an hour, and it is just not enough," said Taylor, who lives in a small rowhouse in Westminster.
She, like other Carroll residents defined as "working poor" by Human Services Programs, often is forced to lower the emphasis on essentials, such as food.
While Lynda Gainor, deputy director of Human Services Programs, said no accurate estimates are available for the number of working poor in Carroll, she defined them as "those who are working but still cannot afford to meet their living expenses."
"They usually make minimum wage or slightly above that and are using it for housing, utilities, transportation and, finally, food," Gainor said. Many of them are part-time workers, she added.
Paul Martin, executive officer of Carroll County Food Sunday,a charity that provides food to the needy, said that his three locations in Eldersburg, Taneytown and Westminster have seen an increase in the number of people needing food over last year.
"We averaged 230 families last year, and since the beginning of this year there hasbeen a steady increase," he said.
Carroll Food Sunday offers a balanced menu, including chicken, ham, turkey and other protein items as well as starches and vegetables, to more than 300 people a week.
"Through Aug. 24, we have helped 10,200 families, and through all of last year we helped 12,000 families. Our numbers are still going up," Martin said.
"There is an increasing need in Carroll County to respond to those who are hungry and poor," said the Rev. Mark Lancaster, Western Maryland regional manager for the Maryland Food Committee,a private, non-profit charitable organization.
"Even though Carroll appears to be a fairly prosperous county, there are still a lot of people who are hurting," said the former pastor of Emory United Methodist Church near Fowblesburg.
Housing costs are a primary factor that contribute to hunger among low-income families, said the Maryland Food Committee in its report, "Not by Bread Alone: A Call to End Hunger."
Unlike food and clothing expenses, mortgage or rent payments cannot be reduced. Consequently, when housing costs increase in relation to the income of the household, the food budget is often cut tomake ends meet, the report said.
"After I would pay the bills, there was $40 to $50 a week left over for food and clothing," Taylor said.
It wasn't enough to feed her family. At Social Services, she got food stamps, AFDC (Aid for Financially Dependent Children) and medical insurance, she said. She also received subsidized child care forher three children while she was at work.
Based on figures developed by the Carroll Department of Social Services, feeding a family offour for a week requires almost double Taylor's budget for food.
"It costs $82 a week to feed a family of four a well-balanced, nutritional diet," said David Ensor, assistant director of income maintenance for DSS.
"Children and the elderly have the greatest need, as children are growing and the elderly need the nutrition to maintain good health," he said.
"There should not be anyone on waiting lists for food," Ensor said. "Anyone who needs food can go to Carroll County Food Sunday and get what they need. No one should be turned away."
But some are not able to get assistance or do not know where to turn for help, Gainor said. "They . . . do not come because they feel they are not that bad off or there is someone else out there who needsthe help more than they do," she said.
Some who do seek assistance use those services, typically sponsored by community organizations,that do not require applicants to supply financial information to prove need.
For instance, Jim, a 43-year-old unemployed constructionworker who did not wish to give his last name, said he has gone to soup kitchens for the last few months to get hot meals.
He picks upodd jobs and spends the time between work with friends and family who put him up for days at a time.
"I am lucky that I have people togive me support right now," he said. "It's a rough time, and I appreciate being able to have a place to sleep that doesn't cost me too much.
"I always chip in for food when I can. And if I can't, I go tothe soup kitchens.
"The soup kitchens are a good place to get a hot meal, and you don't have to worry about giving your life story. It's bad enough when you're out of work and your pride is hurting."
Carroll is fortunate in that Human Services, church-sponsored soup kitchens and food cooperatives are responding to the growing need to provide food for the hungry, Lancaster said.