For years, the family of five always gave baskets of food to their needy neighbors during the holidays. But this Thanksgiving, a sudden reversal of fortune has left the family begging for help.
The storyis common these days at the county Department of Social Services, where volunteers and social workers are struggling to assist hundreds of families.
Hard-hit by the economic slump, more people than ever have signedup for a Thanksgiving food basket, said Christine Poulsen, co-chairwoman of Holiday Sharing, a countywide food and gift drive. The 12-year-old program is sponsored by DSS and the Medical Auxiliary of Anne Arundel County.
More than 200 families and another 40 seniors stillneed a Thanksgiving dinner, Poulsen said. With the hours ticking by,many could wind up without a food basket and turkey.
For the second time in the program's history, the demand has sharply outstripped the supply. More than 300 families and seniors still were waiting forgift baskets several days before Thanksgiving last year. The programsucceeded in drumming up more donations in an 11th-hour telephone campaign and media blitz.
The sagging economy has turned the tables on some families who previously donated Thanksgiving baskets, Poulsensaid. Some are cutting back; others can't afford to give anything this year.
At the same time, men and women who have never been on the county's welfare rolls are calling for help. Many were laid off over the past year, said Imelda Herzinger, a volunteer from the auxiliary who coordinates Holiday Sharing with Poulsen.
"Last year was thehighest ever, but I think the requests for help will be much higher yet this year," she said. "We're seeing brand-new people who have never needed help before."
The program matched up more than 1,800 families and seniors with donors at Thanksgiving and 2,800 at Christmas last year. This year, even more are expected, in marked contrast to the program's early years, when less than 1,400 families got help during the holidays.
Holiday Sharing helps line up other programs withneedy families. Among the efforts to collect food and toys for the county's poorer families are:
* A countywide food drive to stock homeless shelters and pantries with supplies.
Each month is designated for different foods -- pasta in November, baby food in December, canned goods in January and cereal in February. Residents are invited to join county employees in contributing at the Arundel Olympic Swim Center in Annapolis, the information center at Quiet Waters Park and the South County Recreation Center.
* The Salvation Army's traditional "red-kettle" campaign, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Volunteers will set up kettles at 14 stores and street cornersacross the county to collect donations for needy families. The Glen Burnie chapter of the Salvation Army also is inviting companies to "adopt a kettle" by having their workers volunteer for a day.
* AnneArundel Realtors will collect canned foods, soups, cereals, juices, powdered milk, pasta and other items during their fourth annual "Harvest for the Hungry."
* Grocery bags are available at Giant Food stores and Provident Bank for residents to collect non-perishable food for the Maryland Food Committee's annual "Bags of Plenty" campaign. The Baltimore-based food committee distributed $135,000 and 408,000 pounds of food to hungry families in the city and five surrounding counties last year. This year, the food committee wants to raise 425,000 pounds of food by December.
(For information on donating to Holiday Sharing, call 974-8711.)