Soup kitchens scrape bottom of pot

November 25, 1992|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

Demand at soup kitchens and food pantries in Central Maryland grew for a third consecutive year, forcing some facilities to turn hungry people away, according to a survey released yesterday by the Maryland Food Committee.

It was the first time in the three years of the survey that soup kitchens and food pantries reported turning people away.

"This year, the picture is really much more somber and sobering," said Linda Eisenberg of the Maryland Food Committee in a news conference at SS. Stephen and James Lutheran Church, one of several soup kitchens in South Baltimore. "When these providers feel themselves pressed against the wall, things are really serious."

The Maryland Food Committee sent out 250 questionnaires to soup kitchens and food pantries in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties. But only 85 were returned. Many facilities said they simply did not have time to fill out the questionnaire, said Peter Rolph, the survey's author.

According to this year's survey, some soup kitchens reduced hours or limited second helpings for the first time. But more than one-fourth of the area's soup kitchens and food pantries still ended up sending people away when supplies ran low.

Soup kitchens served 71,833 meals in October of this year, up 15 percent over the October 1991 survey.

Food pantries, which distribute three to five days' worth of groceries, reported a 31 percent increase, from 11,930 people in October 1991 to 15,650 in October 1992.

Maryland's ailing economy seems to be the reason for the surge in demand, particularly at some food pantries in suburban areas, according to anecdotal evidence included on the questionnaires.

"Layoffs and budget cuts were most frequently mentioned, [followed by] the minimum wage level, underemployment and a lack of employment opportunities," according to the report.

The survey also found that:

* Almost 25 percent of the soup kitchens said they had to cut back on services; more than 25 percent turned people away after running out of food. One kitchen turned 50 people away in a single day.

* Food pantries, which typically limit clients to one visit a month, had an even higher number of turn-aways, with 30 percent reporting they had said no to some clients.

* Families with children made up one-fourth of the soup kitchens' clients. For food pantries, it was closer to three-fourths.

* Two-thirds of all soup kitchens said they served employed people -- an average of 15 percent overall. At food pantries, it was 28 percent of all clients.

There was one good piece of news in yesterday's news conference. Bags of Plenty, the seasonal food-and-cash drive run by the Maryland Food Committee and the Maryland Food Bank, is off to a record start in its first week. But it is still too early to tell if the campaign will meet its goal of raising 435,000 pounds of food by Nov. 30 and $130,000 in cash by year's end.

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