The sign on the door of a soup kitchen in Glen Burnie speaks louder than any treatise on the poor economy: Sorry -- No Funds.
As winter winds down, shelters and soup kitchens in the county are running out of money to help the needy.
Charities such as the North County Emergency Outreach (NEON), a non-profit coalition of 28 churches, report a dramatic increase in thenumber of families needing help in the last few months -- and not enough money to help them.
"NEON was drained of funds in November and December because of the great need," says Leo Zerhusen, who hopes to raise money for the coalition with a bike-athon this spring. "They got wiped out."
NEON gave out several hundred bags of groceries and used up a $12,000 resource fund in two months. "Now they're going on what they get day to day and week to week," says Zerhusen.
"For nine days, we were totally without funds," says Sister Rose Lindner, a co-director of the NEON center on Fifth Avenue in Glen Burnie. "This happens periodically, but it has been happening more lately. More people are coming, and they have more needs. We've added to our emergency list of things we'll assist people with, such as prescription medicines."
When the NEON center opened two years ago, none of those seeking help were middle-class homeowners, says Lindner. Now, out of perhaps 20 needy people coming to the center a day, two or three are people desperate for money to make mortgage payments so they will notlose their houses.
In January this year, the network received a $5,000 grant from United Way, but it didn't last long, says Lindner, comparing the statistics of people NEON helped in January 1991 to January of this year.
Last year in January, the center served 210 families with 338 children. This year in the same month, they served 60 more families than last year and 152 more children. They gave away 300bags of food last January, and 360 this January.
Money dispersed to prevent evictions rose more than $1,000, from $6,140 in January of'91 to $7,220 in January of '92; and money given away to pay heatingbills increased more than $1,500 from $3,140 to $4,780, she says.
One of the most telling increases, says Lindner, is money dispersed for medicine: $330 in January of '91, and $500 this past January.
"People who've always been working and were covered by medical insurance have lost their jobs and are not into any system yet," she says.
But in February of this year, the money NEON could give away decreased dramatically. The coalition paid $6,790 to help prevent evictions in February of '91, but the amount fell more than $4,000 to $2,450 last month. Money for electric bills and medicines also decreased significantly.
"There isn't less need," says Lindner. "We just don't have the money."
The center still gives away food and does everything possible to refer people to other agencies. "We call everyone with know," says Lindner. "But we have to be very careful with money."
The rising demand for emergency food and assistance with rent and fuel bills is mirrored across the state, said Eileen Gillan, spokeswoman for the Maryland Food Committee, which provides grants to 130 soupkitchens and pantries.
"It's absolutely worse," Gillan says. "We've heard from several pantries who've had to cut back their hours or shut down temporarily or decrease the amount of food they give peoplebecause they don't have enough food to give out. A pantry in Catonsville stopped giving food to any repeat people, and they still had a record month last month."
With less assistance available from the government and more people needing help, non-profit organizations suchas NEON are trying to fill the gap, Gillan says. But they are havinga much harder time this spring.
Says Zerhusen, a school teacher, "Until it hits home, you don't realize how bad it is."
After hearing at his church about NEON's plight, Zerhusen decided to help organize a fund-raiser. He has experience organizing such events for cerebral palsy and cancer funds.
"We're trying to get all the NEON churches, as well as the community at large involved," says Zerhusen. The May 30 bike-athon (and walk-athon) will be held at St. Bernadette's Roman Catholic Church, Arundel Vo-Tech North, and Martin Spalding HighSchool. The distance measures one mile, and participants can take asmany laps as they please.
Those interested in the fund-raising event should contact Leo Zerhusen at 859-1297 or Sister Rose Lindner atSt. Bernadette's at 969-9048.