Need for aid is rising, say food banks Holiday donations are not keeping pace, local agencies report

'A big blow to our budget'

Groups fear stocks won't be sufficient after Christmas

November 20, 1995|By Howard Libit and Ivan Penn | Howard Libit and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

The number of Howard County families requesting assistance for the holidays has increased substantially this year, but donations are not rising to meet the new needs, according to local food banks and social service agencies.

The rise in needy families -- and decline in donations to some charities -- are signs of Howard's continuing economic problems, including layoffs earlier this year at two of the county's largest private employers.

And the groups that help the hungry say they're even more concerned about what will happen in the days after Christmas when donations typically dry up.

"It's probably this environment of budget-cutting in government and business," said Wendy Kinsley, director of the Salvation Army's Howard County service center. "A lot of businesses have called us and said they're cutting out their donations and sponsorships of families, and more families are coming to us in need."

The Salvation Army -- the county's largest provider of holiday meals for the hungry -- expects to help about 450 families for Thanksgiving this week, up from 300 last year, Ms. Kinsley said.

But with fewer companies and individuals offering to adopt families, "it's really going to be a big blow to our budget," Ms. Kinsley said.

The decline in giving is part of an overall trend, said Joan Chiarenza, coordinator of the food pantry FISH of Howard County, which provides food to the poor at six local pantries.

Over the past seven years, FISH has seen its holiday collections drop from a high of 15,000 items to about 8,000 the past few years, making it difficult to provide food throughout the year.

And a lack of volunteers has forced the once 24-hour operation to cut back its hours.

"The government is even cutting back on what they give," Ms. Chiarenza said.

Other agencies and food banks report similar situations.

At the Grassroots Homeless shelters, the number of families seeking assistance for the holidays has risen to 27 this year, said Kathie DiNoto, the shelter coordinator.

She said that it's too early to tell if donations will decline, but that this week will be critical to its fund-raising effort.

The Domestic Violence Center of Howard County -- which maintains six shelters -- also has seen at least a 10 percent rise in needy families, but donations seem to be meeting the needs so far, said Luellen Matthews, the center's executive director.

All the groups warn that the need is going to continue after the holidays, and their leaders are worried that people typically give only for Christmas.

"People are not aware that some people are still hungry" after Christmas, said Doris Schwarz, a volunteer with FISH.

The Domestic Violence Center also expects its need for donations to increase after the holidays. "Historically, everybody tries to keep it together through the holidays, but after the holidays we see a tremendous rise in women and children seeking assistance," Ms. Matthews said.

Organizations accepting donations of food and money include:

* Community Action of Howard County, which maintains the county-run food bank in Ellicott City. To donate nonperishable items, call 313-6440.

* Domestic Violence of Howard County. The center is regularly in need of such perishable items as bread, milk, peanut butter and jelly as well as trash bags, paper towels and disposable diapers. To donate, call 997-0304.

* FISH of Howard County. To donate nonperishable items, call 964-8660.

* Howard County branch of the Salvation Army. Nonperishable food donations can be dropped off at the Salvation Army center in the Bethany 40 Center, 10176 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.

* Grassroots Homeless shelters. To donate, call 531-6006.

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