Annual food drive falls short of goal, forcing officials to extend deadline

Collection often difficult in March, organizers say

March 27, 2001|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

This year's Harvest for the Hungry is no bumper crop.

Officials at the Maryland Food Bank and U.S. Postal Service, which have collected only a fifth of their original goal of 100,000 pounds of nonperishable food donations this month, have extended the annual food drive through Saturday.

"We're at the 11th hour and 59th minute. We're holding out hope that things work out, but if the public doesn't get the message now, the opportunity is past," said Bill Ewing, executive director of the food bank. The statewide shortfall means emergency-care providers who rely on the food bank might have little to offer Maryland's neediest families.

As of yesterday, Baltimore-area letter carriers had collected about 22,000 pounds of canned and nonperishable food left at residential mailboxes and local post offices since March 17.

Ewing said the food bank has set a goal of 40,000 pounds by Saturday, enough to provide roughly 32,000 meals.

"In the great scheme of things, that's not a whole lot of meals," Ewing said. "If we have the food, we help people. If we don't have the food, we can't. We have a demand [for food] that in the best of times we can't meet. In the worst of times, it's pathetic."

The Maryland Food Bank supplies 700 emergency-care providers, about 600 of which are church pantries. Its weeklong March Harvest for the Hungry food drive, in its 14th year, has traditionally struggled to meet donation goals.

In 1999, it took a five-day extension to help organizers collect 80,000 pounds of food.

The previous year, 1,600 letter carriers gathered about 50,000 pounds of food - a tenth of the food drive's goal.

In 1997 and last year, organizers mailed out nearly 1.7 million cards, at a cost of roughly $100,000, to alert residents to the annual drive. The 1997 mailing helped pull in 270,000 pounds of food. Last year, the mailing helped net 440,000 pounds.

"People don't give unless they're asked," Ewing said. "This year, it wasn't like we made the decision not to spend the money. We didn't have it. Yes, we got 440,000 pounds of food last year, but it's a little hard to justify spending that kind of money" on postage and materials, he added.

Through Saturday, letter carriers will collect canned goods and nonperishable food left at residential mailboxes and post offices.

Ewing said he hoped people donate as they do to the holiday food drive. "It's no more fun being hungry in April than it is on Christmas Day," he said.

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