With more than 45,000 Marylanders at risk of hunger, shoppers help out

Food drive in Carroll exceeds goal

November 08, 2005|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

With Congress set to consider cuts in food stamps, heating oil prices escalating and prospective donors barraged by crises around the world, the director of Maryland Food Bank said he has never been more apprehensive about the onset of winter.

"People will have to decide between heating their homes, buying gas to get to work at a minimum wage job and food," said Bill Ewing, who for 26 years as director has been fighting hunger.

To help more than 45,000 Marylanders - about half of them children - who rely on emergency food programs each week, the food bank kicked off the Baltimore area's largest one-day food drive at a Westminster grocery store yesterday.

The goal of the drive, also sponsored by Shoppers Food Warehouse and ConAgra Foods, was to collect 5,000 pounds of food. That amount translates roughly to an equivalent number of meals.

"It is doable," Ewing said. "The public likes food drives. Giving food is the easiest donation. You know somebody is going to eat it and no greedy executive is going to take a percentage of it."

5,000-pound goal

Organizers filled a tent with empty carts near the Shoppers on the parking lot of the 140 Village Shopping Center. By dusk, with five hours to go, the drive reached its 5,000-pound goal.

Filled carts were emptied into 300-pound bins that were to be loaded onto a box truck late last night and delivered to the food bank's warehouse in Halethorpe.

"Once we get it sorted, it will go quickly, before Thanksgiving," said Teresa Ernst, the food bank's community relations manager. "Food drives like this give us variety and the best stuff that is shelf-stable and protein-based."

Tom Nusser of Westminster dropped a case of infant formula into a bin.

"Babies need formula to grow," he said. "Their parents can go without, but they can't."

Prompted by memories of childhood hunger, Mary Reed gave several cartons of food, including a carton of soup and several cake and brownie mixes.

"I was poor as a child and know all about soup kitchens," she said. "It feels good to give now rather than receive and to give some fun stuff, too."

The manager at Shoppers randomly awarded 20 customers gift certificates worth $50. Three of them returned that amount in food to the drive.

Shoppers' employees all donned T-shirts with a logo that said, "End Childhood Hunger," a message printed on signs throughout the store. The manager announced drive details every half-hour and clerks put fliers in shopping bags.

Cashier-shopper

A few customers gave cashier Sandra Tyler money to shop for the charity and her manager gave her the time. By noon, she had pushed two carts brimming with groceries to the donation tent and was going back to fill a third. When she asked organizers for tips, they answered, "Healthy food for kids."

Several North Carroll Middle School pupils joined the effort with their social studies teacher Marsha Blank. They handed out fliers, urging customers to donate to the drive.

"I just want to help feed the hungry," said Shawn Hale, 12. "You need a full stomach and kids have to eat regularly."

North Carroll Middle School is already involved in its annual pre-holiday food drive and the one-day event gave pupils a chance for hands-on involvement, Blank said.

"We all eat a lot this time of year and that makes us think about those who don't have enough to eat," she said.

Her daughters Dani, 9, and Maggie Zepp, 12, stood at the entrance to the store and found many donors.

"I am sure that if we needed help, they would help us," said Monica Naill, a mother of three who promised to shop with the drive in mind.

Having children involved as volunteers "sends a strong message that they recognize the problem and are doing something about it," said Anita Wheeler, director of ConAgra Foods Feeding Children Better Foundation, who flew in from Omaha, Neb., for the drive. "Maybe these children will remember supporting the right thing all their lives.

Childhood hunger is a huge challenge, Wheeler said.

"One in five children in the U.S. is hungry or at risk of hunger," she said.

"That means 13 million children are not getting the nutrition they need to lead healthy lives. That is not acceptable in a country with resources like we have."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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