Ann Miller, Md. Food Bank founder

World War II Army nurse and Baltimore activist worked to eliminate hunger

  • Ann Miller, who founded the Maryland Food Bank, died Wednesday.
Ann Miller, who founded the Maryland Food Bank, died Wednesday.
July 19, 2013|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Ann Miller, who was a nurse with the Army Nurse Corps during World War II and later founded the Maryland Food Bank, died Wednesday of respiratory failure at Vantage House in Columbia. She was 97.

"Many people may not know that the Maryland Food Bank was the first food bank on the East Coast and one of the first nationwide — all thanks to Ann Miller's visionary leadership and hard work," said Deborah Flateman, president and CEO of the Maryland Food Bank.

"She served on the very first board of America's Second Harvest, which has since become Feeding America, the largest anti-hunger charity in the nation," said Ms. Flateman. "Her impact simply cannot be overstated."

"Ann's thing was service to others. It was what she believed in and did all of her life," said Bill Ewing, who had been executive director of the Maryland Food Bank for 28 years until retiring in 2007.

"She was the most exemplary person I've ever met in my life. She put aside any thoughts of herself and was totally focused on helping others," said Mr. Ewing. "In that regard, she was a true Quaker."

The daughter of a businessman and a homemaker, Ms. Miller was born and raised in West Philadelphia.

After graduating from Philadelphia Girls High School in 1933, she earned her bachelor's degree in 1937 from Smith College and earned a master's degree in 1940 from the Yale School of Nursing.

Ms. Miller began her nursing career as a pediatric nurse at Bellevue Hospital in New York City before enlisting in the Army Nurse Corps in 1943. She served in England and France.

At the time of her discharge in 1945, Ms. Miller had attained the rank of lieutenant. After the war, she served as a regional nurse in Japan for three years, and from 1953 to 1958 was the nurse supervisor at the old Sinai Hospital at Broadway and East Monument Street.

In 1969, Ms. Miller was working for the Baltimore Health Department's day care division when she became interested in food issues and the needy.

A report showing that thousands of schoolchildren in Baltimore were suffering from anemia raised her interest, which resulted in her joining a small group of volunteers who established the Maryland Food Committee.

"Our purpose was to see that there would be no more hunger in Maryland — and in 1969, that really seemed possible," Ms. Miller told The Baltimore Sun in a 1986 article.

The group's first efforts focused on getting state and local officials to make use of the federal school lunch program, which in 1969 wasn't available to many city school students.

The organization created and financed an experimental feeding project in Cherry Hill that "drew national recognition," The Sun reported, and led to the founding of the federal Women, Infants and Children nutrition assistance program.

When the Maryland Food Bank, which was an offshoot of the Maryland Food Committee, was founded in 1979, Ms. Miller imagined that "hunger was a temporary problem," reported The Sun in a 2004 article on the food bank.

"It had been that way even during the Depression, when she worked alongside her mother to distribute packages of food. At most, she expected the Food Bank to last five years," observed the newspaper.

Ms. Miller led the organization during its first seven years when it began with 38 member agencies and volunteers "who wondered how the new group would come up with enough food to serve them," reported The Sun in 1986, at the time of her retirement.

Ms. Miller launched an effort that made wholesalers, supermarkets and other food distributors aware that they could donate any surplus food and canned goods to the food bank.

In the beginning there was some doubt about developing a constant flow of donated goods.

"The first time I came here thinking, 'This is crazy; they'll never be able to fill this warehouse with food,'" Mr. Ewing, who succeeded Ms. Miller, said in the 1986 Sun article.

At the time she stepped down as executive director, the food bank was distributing 450,000 pounds of food each month to 600 programs throughout Maryland. Because it became such a successful program under her administration, the organization was forced to build a larger warehouse.

"There are a lot of people who say to me, 'What are you doing, just preventing the revolution?'" Ms. Miller told The Sun in 1986. "I tell them, 'While you all are talking … there are people who are going to starve. So we'll feed them until you come up with a permanent solution.'"

"She was at the forefront of a vital movement to help children and families in need while simultaneously contributing to the environmental conservation movement by reducing food waste," said Ms. Flateman.

"And she never forgot the food bank and those we serve. Twenty-five years after she retired, she was still coming to events and making significant annual gifts," she said.

When she retired, Gov. Harry R. Hughes presented Ms. Miller with a Certificate of Distinguished Citizenship, and the Maryland House of Delegates passed a resolution in her honor.

"She was indefatigable and such an inspiration to me. Ann saw a little of God in everyone," said Mr. Ewing, who lives in Harpswell, Maine. "She also based her beliefs in that she needed to give something back. She was a truly wonderful person."

Earlier, Ms. Miller had been active in civil rights in Baltimore, helping to desegregate department stores, restaurants and Gwynn Oak Park.

For the past 15 years, the former North Charles Street resident had lived at the Vantage House retirement community in Columbia, where she enjoyed reading and teaching bridge.

She was also a world traveler and an inveterate walker, family members said.

Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.

Surviving are a brother, Charles Miller of Lewes, Del.; and six nieces.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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