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Food Donations Drop as Need For Help Rises

Brenda DiCarlo, manager of the Southern Maryland Food Bank, says her organization is trying to serve 60 percent more people than last year.
Brenda DiCarlo, manager of the Southern Maryland Food Bank, says her organization is trying to serve 60 percent more people than last year. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
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By Matt Zapotosky and Kristen Mack
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sharp increases in food prices and the unstable economy are creating shortages at food pantries in the region as they struggle to keep up with demand.

The Southern Maryland Food Bank, which helps stock pantries in the three-county region, has had an unprecedented increase in demand, officials said. To make things worse, they said, the organization has also had an unprecedented drop in donations.

For the first time, officials are limiting what pantries can take, said Brenda DiCarlo, the food bank's manager. That is because they are trying to serve 60 percent more people than last year, she said.

"We've only been able to give a fraction of what our pantries actually need," DiCarlo said. "Because the need is just so enormous, whatever little bit we have coming in is just gone before I have a chance to take a tally for it."

The problem, she said, is that middle-class families, once the food bank's biggest donors, have become clients.

"Those families are now coming to us as a portion of the population that we service," she said. "We're having a huge influx of families, and the majority of the new ones are those people who never needed help before."

Pantry directors in Southern Maryland echoed DiCarlo.

The thrift shop and food pantry of the Service Makes Individual Lives Exciting Ecumenical Ministries in Lusby had 8,169 visits from people in need last year. Through last month, the pantry had nearly 11,000 visits, said Maarja Gandy, the organization's coordinator.

"A lot of our clients are definitely working poor people, and they're the ones that get hit first," Gandy said. "I just don't know what will happen if it continues this way."

The Ecumenical Ministries' pantry, Gandy said, is more secure than some because it uses proceeds from a thrift shop to buy food. Still, Gandy said, she is worried about what will happen in February, when donations motivated by the Christmas spirit run dry.

"Everybody wants to donate at Christmastime, and believe me, we use everything," she said.

Other food programs are also feeling the pinch.


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