Full Bags Of Food, Full Hearts

March 06, 1994|By Karin Remesch | Karin Remesch,Contributing Writer

Unpacking groceries is a cause for celebration in the Collins household.

Not often do 3-year-old Kenny; his older brother, Jeremy, 9; and sister, Kelsey, 1, get the chance to help their mother stock the pantry shelves of their Joppa home.

But once every other month, when the Harford Food Bank provides food for participants in a federally sponsored nutrition program for mothers and their young children, Pam Collins comes home with arms filled with groceries.

"The kids get really excited when I come home with all that food," said Mrs. Collins. "My husband is laid off from his job, and it's impossible to get by with the money I make as a full-time waitress."

The Collins family was one of about 200 receiving almost 200 pounds of food Tuesday at the Church of the Nazarene in Bel Air.

But by the time food is delivered to all five Women, Infants and Children (WIC) sites in Harford, the shelves at the Harford County Food Bank will once again be bare.

About 800 families will have received almost 20,000 pounds of food during this month's WIC distribution, said the Rev. J. William McNally, founder and director of the local food bank.

"For a while, it looked like we wouldn't even be able to handle the demand at the five WIC sites," said Mr. McNally. "With the harshness of winter, demand on the food bank has been higher '' than usual."

With the help of U.S. postal workers, who recently collected 19,334 pounds of food along their Harford routes through the Harvest for Hungry program, the food bank shelves were replenished just in time for the WIC distribution.

"But it's not easy to keep the shelves stocked. We will have to struggle to get the bags packed for Cecil County's WIC program in April," said Mr. McNally.

The WIC sites are operated on alternate months in Harford and Cecil counties, he said.

The food bank depends heavily on food drives such as Harvest for Hungry and corporate donations to meet its goal of providing low-cost food to churches and nonprofit organizations that feed the hungry.

In addition to supporting the WIC program, food is distributed among 60 nonprofit organizations and churches that feed the hungry. Soup kitchens also receive supplies from the local food bank.

"Unfortunately, people think about hunger mostly at Thanksgiving and Christmas. They don't realize that hunger has no holidays. . . . We need to set up a procedure where food is collected 365 days a year," Mr. McNally said.

Three times a week, the food bank's truck tours the county, picking up overstock from grocery stores such as Giant, Klein's and Mars, while Clorox contributes cleaning products.

"It's a great help, but just not enough. The daily need for food is so great, we need to tap into more manufacturers and grocery stores," said Mr. McNally. "The food we pick up from the stores would otherwise have been dumped. Our motto is 'Don't Dump, Donate.' "

Mr. McNally said the food bank will handle about 400 tons of food this year, with at least 10 tons a month going to WIC.

The Harford County WIC program serves more than 3,000 pregnant and nursing women, infants and children up to 5 years old, said its director, Mary Noppenberger.

In addition to the groceries provided by the food bank, WIC participants also receive vouchers, which are redeemable at approved supermarkets, and members receive nutrition education and peer counseling.

The food at the WIC sites is distributed through Brown Bag Clubs sponsored by various area churches.

Recipients pay a $5 handling fee for a unit of food, which generally includes a bag filled with canned goods and nonperishable items, a case of cleaning products, potatoes and baked goods.

"That's about 10 cents per pound, while food at the grocery store averages about $2 per pound," Mr. McNally said.

The handling fee goes toward maintenance of the two-building food bank on Edgewood Road and gasoline for the facility's delivery truck.

Food distribution at the Bel Air WIC site is organized by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Harford County with the help of other local churches.

Michael Kabik, a member of the Unitarian church, has been volunteering his services since the program started about six years ago.

While helping Mrs. Collins pack her car with groceries, Mr. Kabik explained that volunteering at the food site has been a rewarding experience.

"Many people just can't get by without assistance. They depend on this food to get them through," Mr. Kabik said. By volunteering, he said he feels he is reciprocating for help his family has received in the past.

"WIC helped out my daughter when she was in need," Mr. Kabik said.

Collecting and distributing food to the hungry involves an entire network of people and businesses, Mr. McNally said.

"It's actually a win-win situation," he said.

"The stores win because they don't have to pay for dumping their overstock. Community service workers who work for us win because they're doing something good. People volunteering at food sites win because it's a rewarding experience, and the people receiving the food win -- they don't have to go hungry."

You can donate food at the Harford Food Bank, 2128 Old Edgewood Road, Edgewood, daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call (410) 679-8186 to schedule large pickups.

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