When holidays end, Southern Maryland food banks' needs will not

By Meredith Somers
The Maryland Independent
Sunday, December 5, 2010; 12:41 AM

As more people in Southern Maryland struggle to pay bills and feed their families, the need for donations to food banks is likely to continue long after this year's holiday season, officials of area nonprofit groups say.

For those who want to help, sending money can be a more constructive option than donating food, some officials said.

Requests for food assistance have risen statewide, as people who work full time but can't afford to meet their expenses are increasingly turning to food banks, Maryland Food Bank Chief Development Officer Paula Minsk said.

"For the first time, we're getting people who were donors, formerly middle class, who are now out of work and are not only not able to contribute but for the first time are looking for help," she said. "It's very hard to watch people who . . . are now asking for the first time in their lives."

The Maryland Food Bank provides food to the Southern Maryland Food Bank, which feeds hungry residents in Calvert, St. Mary's and Charles counties.

In fiscal 2010, the Maryland Food Bank donated more than 18 million pounds of food to pantries statewide, enough to feed roughly 124,000 people, Minsk said. About 939,000 pounds went to Southern Maryland, she said, and the agency is on track to deliver even more by June 30, the end of fiscal 2011.

Although sending food to the pantry might seem like an obvious solution, it isn't always the best way to curb hunger, Minsk said.

"We don't encourage people to go to their pantries and pull out anything they don't need. That's very generous, but it's not that helpful," she said. "We encourage people to look at our Web site and make a [monetary] contribution. Our buying power allows us to buy below wholesale cost."

Corae Young, support services director for La Plata-based LifeStyles of Maryland, agrees.

"Our food pantry is pretty much based on donations we receive," she said. "We get a large donation, [but] in a week and a half or two, it can be gone," Young said.

Monsignor Bill Parent, pastor of St. Peter's Church in Waldorf, said more people are turning to the church's St. Vincent de Paul food pantry. Demand increased when the economy took a downturn in 2008 and has remained high.

Damien Wanner, the calls-for-aid chairman for St. Vincent de Paul, said the pantry is seeing more people who usually do not need its services.

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