Lucille Kane cradled the heavy cardboard box as gently as a baby in her arms.
Walking out to her car, she smiled down at all the food,the canned beans and corn, the bread, stuffing and fresh oranges. All she needed to start cooking was the turkey and the ingredients to her favorite pineapple upside-down cake. She and her children were going to have a great Thanksgiving feast.
"Yep, we're gonna have a turkey and stuffing and everything," said Kane, who is struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over the heads of her three children and two grandchildren.
For the first time in her life, the 42-year-old school custodian had to go to a food pantry for help.
But the four women handing out Thanksgiving baskets yesterday at the Severna Park Assistance Network quickly reassured Kane that she wasn't the only one. Dozens of newly laid-off workers, single parents and seniors were lining up for their first basket.
"They've never needed help before, and they don't know how to goabout it," said Barbara Birkenheuer, the volunteer chairman of SPAN,a food pantry and emergency assistance program run by eight churchesin the Severna Park area. Founded a year-and-a-half ago, the pantry behind Our Shepherd Lutheran Church on Benfield Boulevard now serves more than 125 families a month.
Many come from the poorer sectionsof Severna Park, Pasadena and Millersville. Because Severna Park is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the county, people often assume that there are no poor families, Birkenheuer said. But the recession has left no area untouched.
"Sometimes, in the large expensive homes, you have situations where abuse is going on," she said. "Sometimes, the husband is laid off, and the family can barely get by. They have kids in college and all their money in the mortgage."
The families who began lining up at the door before 10 a.m. yesterday came from all over -- from Annapolis and Pioneer City, from upscale housingdevelopments and public housing complexes. Some car-pooled to get tothe pantry, a former parish house now stocked with canned foods.
One man, a homeless paraplegic who is living in his truck, rolled down the window and called out for help. The women brought him ready-prepared food and a check to cover his prescription medicine.
"I havea high rent. By the time I pay my bills, I don't have money to buy food," said Veronica Turk, who relies on SPAN.
She was one of the regulars who came in for a Thanksgiving basket. But many others poked their heads around the door and asked in an embarrassed voice if thiswas the place for food. They had never come to the pantry before, but just couldn't afford a big Thanksgiving meal.
"I got laid off three months ago," said Wayne Barnes, a dry-wall worker and father of two. "I even lost my car."
A 50-year-old former groundskeeper, who lost his job last February, said he is looking at a bleak future now that his unemployment benefits have run out. He keeps searching through the want ads, he said, but can't land another job.
"No, I've never been here before," he said quietly. "I never needed to before."
Many of the people who stopped by to donate a bag of
food yesterday talked about how they might easily be on the asking side. A few strokes of misfortune could have left them one of the 70 families who needed a Thanksgiving basket yesterday.
"People are reading the paper and realizing this could be me," Birkenheuer said. "We've had a lot more giving this year because people know how bad things are."