Rich Dobry started out with 800 Realtors, urging each one to knock on doors and ask for canned goods for the hungry. That winter six years ago, Mr. Dobry's army of volunteers collected $65,000 worth of food in just two weeks.
Since then, the former chief operating officer for a major Baltimore real estate company has become a broker for Re/Max Real Estate Spirit in Severna Park. And his band of volunteers, working through the annual Harvest for the Hungry campaign he co-founded, has grown to 10,000 Realtors in five counties and Baltimore.
For its part, the Anne Arundel County Association of Realtors hopes to collect $100,000 worth of non-perishable food for the drive by the end of November. Last year, the group gathered more than $60,000 worth of food in one month.
Similar Realtors' boards in Baltimore, Harford, Howard and Carroll counties and in Baltimore City have set individual goals for the two-month drive. The Maryland Food Bank estimates that 700,000 state residents need help feeding their families every year.
Since Oct. 6, Realtors in Anne Arundel have gone door-to-door, collected canned goods in their offices and even made special trips to pick up food at people's homes. They've amassed close to 10,000 pounds of food -- worth roughly $20,000 -- plus $900 worth of checks, which they've donated to the Anne Arundel County Food Bank, Mr. Dobry said.
"It's easy to get donations of food compared to donations of money," he said. "They usually come to the door with a bagful."
Bruce Michalec, food bank director, has picked up canned goods from the Realtors and delivered them to some of the 30 to 50 pantries he helps stock, most of them sponsored by churches or the Salvation Army.
Mr. Dobry says he has no doubt his volunteers will press on until they've reached their goal, especially at a time when layoffs have created a new class of needy.
"We have a whole bunch of people [who need food] we didn't have a year ago," Mr. Dobry said.
Mr. Michalec knows this all too well. "We're dealing with people out of work, not on food stamps, people laid off from Westinghouse, perhaps, or small companies," he said. "They're the hidden poor. They need help more often. It's a weekly need."
In the past, Realtors had run a one-month drive, from Thanksgiving to Christmas. This year, at the urging of the food bank, organizers extended the drive another month and started it earlier to meet the high, non-holiday demand.
Organizers plan a food drop-off between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Nov. 14 at Poplar Ridge Hall, off Fort Smallwood Road in Pasadena. While they can always use more soups, canned meats and vegetables, peanut butter, cereals, juices, dry beans, rice, gravy mix, powdered milk, spaghetti and pancake mix, they also need personal toiletry items, Mr. Dobry said.