Thanksgiving need at area food pantries reaches record levels

Food pantries say the need is continuing even as the economy stutters back to life, especially with formerly middle-class clientele. In affluent Loudoun County, for example, one food pantry will be providing 2,000 Thanksgiving dinners to needy residents for the first time ever.
By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 22, 2010; 12:58 AM

The economy may be showing signs of life, but food pantries and other nonprofit food-distribution agencies around the region say they are struggling to meet record-breaking demand as the holidays approach.

In Loudoun County - the nation's wealthiest county measured by median income - the food pantry is distributing its first-ever Thanksgiving meal, giving food to 2,000 families. In Montgomery County, the Manna Food Center added some Saturday hours for the convenience of working families. And in Fairfax County, the nonprofit Our Daily Bread is facing the grim reality that, although it will feed 2,400 people, it may not be able to help as many 650 needy families at Thanksgiving.

Lynn Brantley, president and chief executive of the Capital Area Food Bank in Northeast Washington, said this year was the most difficult in the organization's 30-year history. The food bank - the main supplier of food to more than 700 agencies and nonprofit groups around the Capital Beltway - will distribute a record-breaking 30 million pounds of food, up from 27 million last year.

"With this economy, things are pretty bleak," Brantley said. "People on Main Street are not rebounding."

Bread lines have become commonplace, including the 3,000 people who waited for groceries and personal-care items in Northeast last week at a giveaway co-sponsored by PepsiCo and the dozens who gathered in front of the Loudoun Interfaith Relief center Friday.

Many are unemployed or underemployed, and their desperation is palpable.

Joyce Crawford used to make a big Thanksgiving spread for her children and grandchildren every year, with turkey, ham, macaroni and cheese, and steaming bowls of collard greens.

That was before - before she lost her job as a secretary, before she went on unemployment and then to a minimum-wage job raking leaves, before she had to give up her place to move in with her 37-year-old daughter. Now, she said, she doesn't have anywhere of her own.

But this Thanksgiving she is determined to cook as usual, even though she's broke and has to squeeze into her daughter's tiny apartment kitchen to do it. For Crawford, it all came down to a donated 12-pound Safeway- brand turkey in a cardboard box. She might not have all the traditional trimmings, but she had that.

"They gave me a turkey, so I am going to cook up this bird!" she said fiercely as she loaded the turkey and bags of groceries into her battered sedan outside the Food for Others pantry in Fairfax.

Although the unemployment rate in the area is lower than the national average, federal agencies say hunger and poverty here are on the rise.

The rate of those experiencing "food insecurity" - a government term for those unsure where their next meal may be coming from - has risen from 8 percent to 9.2 percent in Virginia, from 12 to 13 percent in the District and from 9 to 11 percent in Maryland, according to U.S. Agriculture Department estimates released this month.

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