Christmas spirit

December 23, 2005

No visit from Marley's ghost is usually needed to persuade Americans to help others this time of year. An estimated 38 million people living in this country may suffer from hunger. So from churches to football stadiums, we hold food drives, collect dry goods and cans and donate to food banks. This is particularly true from Thanksgiving to New Year's. It's hard to celebrate the season without giving thought to those in need of help.

But this year has been different. Katrina, Rita and Wilma proved an overwhelming one-two-three punch from Louisiana to Florida. In response, many people donated food and money to help the victims.

Unfortunately, that has left local food banks looking a little bare. The Maryland Food Bank is reporting a shortfall in donations. In some cases, food campaigns have collected nearly a third less than usual. That's got organizers worried that they won't have enough to provide for families through the winter. Similar concerns are being reported across the country.

Yet the demand for help is likely to be higher than ever.

A recent survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found 90 percent of city officials expect the need for emergency food assistance to go up in 2006. Higher fuel costs might force poor families to choose between heat and food.

It's not too late to correct this shortage. Many supermarkets are still accepting nonperishable food donations for the poor. Cash is helpful, too. The Maryland Food Bank can be reached at www.mdfoodbank.org, or by calling 410-737-8282.

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