Commitment needed to fight Md.'s hunger

Food banks: More poor people are back to work, but they need help putting food on the table.

November 15, 2001

THOUSANDS of Marylanders missed out on the nation's longest period of prosperity.

The stock market boomed, employment soared and recent college graduates became millionaires in the '90s, but for people below the boom, life has been hard and cupboards sparse.

Hunger is persistent -- in good times and bad.

Adults and children regularly go to bed hungry at night in Maryland, according to a report released yesterday by America's Second Harvest, a national network of 191 food banks that includes the Maryland Food Bank.

These people normally make the choice between food and rent, food and heat or food and medicine.

Welfare reform has slashed the number of families receiving public assistance: In Maryland, the number of welfare recipients dropped by almost 69 percent from January 1995 through this past September.

But people going from welfare to work aren't landing jobs that pay enough to support their families. To stave off hunger, many turn to pantries and soup kitchens served by the food bank.

The report shows why food banks are finding it necessary to stay in business and why contributions to these organizations are imperative.

Maryland Food Bank's programs serve about 45,000 people a week, according to the report. It reaches every state jurisdiction except Prince George's and Montgomery counties. Some recipients are former college students, and about half the households served have a working adult.

The Maryland Food Bank says the demand has increased during the recent prosperity. Who knows what will happen with times getting worse?

Under Maryland's welfare reform program, eligibility will end, at least in theory, in January for the first families receiving government assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. State officials say no one will get cut off in two months, but time limits will cut off families eventually.

The poor and working poor will always need a pantry, a kitchen or even a shelter. Food banks are their main source.

The Maryland Food Bank sends help from a 50,000-square-foot warehouse on Franklintown Road in West Baltimore. The food bank depends on charitable contributions from the food industry, grocers and distributors stuck with surpluses.

But that source of charity comes in a mixed bag -- a bounty of potatoes one week and toothpaste overstock the next. Getting the right supplies is a constant struggle.

Also, the food bank spends $100,000 a year shipping food and other goods to Baltimore from across the country. That's why financial contributions from businesses and individuals are so important.

Please support the food bank in good times and bad. Efforts such as its current Good Neighbors Food and Funds Drive at area Giant Food stores help end hunger -- not forever, but day by day.

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