U.S. hunger survey reflects Md.'s plight

March 09, 1994|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Sun Staff Writer

More than 10 percent of Americans rely on emergency feeding programs, and nearly half of those people did not expect to need assistance just a few months earlier, according to a national hunger survey released yesterday.

The survey, by Chicago-based Second Harvest, found that nearly 26 million Americans depend regularly on food from 40,000 soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters.

Nationwide findings mirror the situation in Maryland, said William G. Ewing, executive director of the Maryland Food Bank. "Locally, we are confident that it's at least 10 percent."

The survey also breaks stereotypes about Americans living in poverty and relying on food programs, he said. Most people who use the programs, he said, are "living on the edge" and their primary concerns are paying rent and mortgages.

The survey found that more than 60 percent of the food recipients have at least a high school diploma and 15 percent are unemployed "professionals."

In addition, it found that women account for nearly 61 percent of the people using food banks or soup kitchens.

Although whites make up the largest number of emergency food recipients, blacks are represented disproportionately due to poverty, according to the survey.

Financial limitations were the reason most people needed food assistance -- 73 percent of the surveyed households received less than $10,000 in annual income.

The Second Harvest report was released yesterday at Samaan House, a soup kitchen and shelter in the 2000 block of Frederick Ave. in Southwest Baltimore.

The shelter, which houses as many as 20 males nightly and offers them two meals, is usually full, officials said.

The Rev. Oliver Phillips, the director of Samaan House, said that the shelter also serves as a place for families to receive food. "It's time to dispel the myth that people we're trying to help are lazy because they're not. They've had unfortunate circumstances."

The 18-month study was conducted by the VanAmburg Group, a marketing research firm, and funded by a grant from Kraft General Foods. The study sampled 34 food banks nationally and included more than 8,500 recipients.

The survey was designed to develop profiles of food recipients, to assess the impact of the food distributed and to create a benchmark study that can be replicated to pinpoint trends.

"We want to be able to say a few years from now that we've done better or we've done worse, we're back sliding," Mr. Ewing said.

Second Harvest is part of the National Food Bank Network, which includes the Maryland Food Bank.

The Maryland Food Bank, the state's largest hunger relief organization, distributes nearly 12 million pounds of food annually.

Most of the food comes from food drives, and Mr. Ewing said that more importance would be attached to future drives.

"We had no idea of the dependency that providers and their clients have on the food bank," he said. "A lot of people are choosing between heating and eating and a large part of what we're trying to do is enable people to make that choice."

FOOD DRIVE EXTENDED

The third annual food drive sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service has been extended through March 31.

The drive originally was scheduled from Feb. 12 to Feb. 19 but bad weather the previous week made it difficult for postal workers to deliver fliers announcing the effort. On Feb. 21, the drive was extended to Feb. 25, then to the end of this month.

Postal workers have collected 380,000 pounds of food for Harvest for the Hungry, a volunteer organization that supplies food banks in several parts of the country. The goal for this year is to collect 1 million pounds of food in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

In each of the last two years, the Postal Service for Harvest for the Hungry collected more than 600,000 pounds of food.

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