District mothers and children are failing to claim thousands of items of nonperished food and $138,000 worth of iron-fortified baby formula that are available under the city's supplemental food program.

The food is available through a national federally-funded Commodity Supplemental Food Program administered by the Department of Human Resources. The program was established by Congress in 1968 to combat malnutrition in pregnant women and young children. Last September, it was granted a three-year extension.

Designed as a health program for low-income women, infants and children found to have a high risk of ill health, the program supplements their normal diet with nutritiuos foods like peanut butter, evaporated milk, juices, canned fruits, vegetables, canned chicken and beef, packaged egg mix, instant potatoes and farina.When a physician prescribes it, the program also offers either evaporated milk and other ingrediants needed to make baby formula. or iron-fortified baby formula.

About 23,000 people are entitled to receive two free bags of food each month under the program, according to the Department of Human Resources. But last November, only 18,580 bags of food were picked up, while participants were entitled to a total of 46,000 bags. However, that distribution represented a significant increases over last April, when only 16,772 bags of food were picked up.

"We strongly encourage eligible persons to take advantage of the supplemental food program," said Dr. I. Blanche Bourne, deputy administrator of the Community Health and Hospitals Administration.

Transportation problems seem to be the main reason many eligible people are not picking up as much free food as they are entitled to, according to a DHR spokeswoman. "We find that the mother, having and infant and perhaps a couple of toddlers cannot always get out" to pick up the food from any of nine distribution points located throughout the city. Bad weather also inhibits paricipants, she said.

In order to be eligible to receive a coupon book that is good for six months. a woman must be pregnant or have had a baby within the past year. Infant and children up to six years of age also are eligilble. Recipients also must be District residents receiving health care and participating in the Medicaid, Food Stamp, or public assistance programs.

If a mother is applying for any of those assistance programs but has not yet been accepted, a DHR spokeswoman said, she can still get a 90-day supply of food, because "the purpose of the program is not only deny the pregnant woman. We are encouraging the mother to give the baby and herself a good start."

In addition to giving out free bags of food, the Commodity Supplemental Food program will show mothers how to prepare it many different ways. The DHR spokewoman gave an example of using the cereal to make nutritious cookies, and using the meat and cereal to mix up scrapple for breakfast. The program also works closely with the Mayor's Commission on Food, BNutrition and Health to provide nutrition education and workshops throughout the City.

People who want more information on the program, or those who would like a nutrition or food preparation demonstration, should call 629-4377.