The Need to Feed

February 03, 1993

Just as the corporate and government landscapes don't resemble what they looked like a few years back, the effort to stem hunger in this country is a markedly changed operation, too.

In 1980, less than 50 soup kitchens and pantries dotted Maryland. Today, there are nearly 600. Food collection drives, once confined to Thanksgiving week, are now held by churches and synagogues year-round. Area soup kitchens and food pantries, once temporary set-ups, now stay open most of the week to satisfy mounting demand. And the people in need of food -- in the past predominantly single, poor men -- now include families, children, minimum-wage workers who can't meet increased housing costs and unemployed white-collar workers.

"We see college-educated people who have done all the right things, people like you and me," reports Nancy Chilton, who runs a food pantry for the Assistance Center of Towson Churches.

More than 800,000 Marylanders are said to be at risk of being hungry. Fortunately, according to the Maryland Food Committee, the administration of Gov. William Donald Schaefer has been sympathetic to the problem, especially given the severe budget constraints of the last few years. Lawmakers have displayed understanding, too. Last year, Maryland became the 19th state to use its own money to supplement a federal nutrition and food program for women and children.

Still, social service advocates are concerned that food programs for school children and senior citizens could be cut in the budget tug-of-war, as they have been in previous years. The school lunch program has been cut from a proposed $7.8 million in fiscal 1991 to $4.3 million for fiscal 1994 -- even as the number of eligible youngsters has swelled.

As government assistance ebbs, the tide of hunger flows to the private, non-profit pantries and soup kitchens. People who run those operations are awe-struck by the increased demand.

The public is generally sympathetic and understanding of the need to feed people. Most of us who who have food have no qualms about donating some of it to private food drives, which have been pushed nearly to the breaking point. Most Marylanders don't begrudge state government for ensuring that other residents won't go hungry. We cannot imagine that the public would want its elected representatives in Annapolis to meet a crying need for food with a big serving of indifference.

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