Food pantries and soup kitchens in Central Maryland reported a dramatic increase in the number of people served this past year, forcing some to turn families away or close for short periods, according to a survey released yesterday by the Maryland Food Committee.
This increase in demand makes this year's Bags of Plenty campaign even more critical than usual, said food program officials.
"We don't really need a survey right now to tell you what is going on out there," Bill Ewing, director of the Maryland Food Bank, said during yesterday's kickoff for this year's campaign. "People are in need. People are hungry."
The survey, which compared last month's figures with those from October 1990, showed that soup kitchens served 27 percent more meals than last year. The survey also showed a cumulative increase of 50 percent over the past two years. Soup kitchens also reported serving more families with children.
Food pantries showed a 13 percent increase in the number of people served in October 1990. Several also had to reduce the amount of food given to each client, or shut down completely for a time because they ran out of food.
The Liberty Assistance Center on Liberty Road in Randallstown was one of those affected. It closed for the first two weeks of August because it did not have enough food to distribute.
"We didn't even answer the phones," said the Rev. Daniel Koch, the center's director. "And that's the first time I've done that."
Normally, the demand is highest during the winter and spring months and the pantry uses the light summer months to recover. This year, June and July were extremely heavy months for the center, whose supplies were exhausted by August.
"And then, boom, this past month of October was our worst month yet," said Mr. Koch, adding that the center has turned away at least 120 families since August 1990. "We've had four separate months where we've had to tell people that we don't have the funds or the food to help them."
Linda Eisenberg, executive director of the Maryland Food Committee, said a major reason for the increased demand on food programs is the increased unemployment in Central
"A lot of the people who were laid off are showing up at these centers much more quickly," she said. "They're running through their resources much faster than we had expected and showing up at the pantries and food kitchens."
Koch said he is seeing more and more families and people reluctant to enroll in welfare programs.
Where to donate
Those who wish to donate food for the Bags of Plenty campaign can use the bag provided in today's Sun and Evening Sun. Bring lTC the food to any Giant Food Store, Provident Bank office or Baltimore fire station. The Maryland Food Committee also is accepting cash donations. The Maryland Food Bank will distribute the food to soup kitchens and food pantries.