The District of Columbia will give away 18,000 pounds of surplus cheese to needy families on Tuesday at distribution centers in six Baptist churches located chiefly in impoverished neighborhoods.
Joseph Ferguson, a top D.C. Department of Human Services official, said the five-pound blocks of processed American cheese will be given to persons who can show that they are on various welfare programs. Each person will be given one block of cheese, he said.
He said the program will be conducted with cooperation from the local Council of Churches, which arranged for the six churches to serve as distribution centers. Distribution is scheduled from 1 to 5 p.m., he said.
The cheese to be distributed is part of 30 million pounds accumulated by the federal government through a price-support program. On Dec. 22, President Reagan ordered the cheese given to the needy before it spoils.
Maryland officials said they already have received 558,000 pounds that are being stored in two warehouses, but cannot afford to distribute it because there are no funds for that purpose in the state budget. Virginia is still negotiating terms of its program with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an official said.
Ferguson, the official overseeing the D.C. distribution program, said the cheese will be taken to the six churches by the city school system's food service trucks.
Those qualified to get the free cheese are people who receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), food stamps, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or General Public Assistance (GPA), Ferguson said. He said those who want the cheese should take their food stamp eligibility forms or 30-day Medicaid authorization cards.
No steps have been taken to prevent people from double dipping by getting cheese from one distribution station, then going to another.
"We quite frankly haven't had the time," Ferguson said. "I suspect many of the states are in the same position."
Churches that will serve as distribution centers are:
Johnson Memorial Baptist, 800 Ridge Rd. SE; First Rising Mount Zion Baptist, 1240 Sixth St. NW; Covenant Baptist, 3845 South Capitol St.; Purity Baptist, 1325 Maryland Ave. NE; First Baptist of Deanwood, 1008 45th St. NE, and Friendship Baptist, 900 Delaware Ave. SW.
In Maryland, Ken Shifflet, head of the state Education Department's food distribution program, said 558,000 pounds were transferred to state ownership on Thursday and are being held at refrigerated warehouses in Baltimore and Landover. There are no funds to get the cheese from there to those who need it, he said.
"I can't tell you how many calls I've had from little old ladies out there who want to come to my office right now and pick up their five pounds of cheese," Shifflet told United Press International. "I feel like an ogre having to tell them no . . . I want to rent a truck and give it away myself."
John W. Nelson Jr., food distribution supervisor for the Virginia Agriculture Department, said that state has not concluded negotiations with the federal government over the transfer of its share of the cheese.
He said one obstacle apparently has been removed with the U.S. agency informally agreeing to let so-called "food banks"--which charitably distribute surplus or improperly packaged goods--charge recipients of the cheese up to 10 cents a pound for the cost of shipping and handling the cheese. Otherwise, as in Maryland, there would be no money available to pay the expenses of distributing the cheese, Nelson said.