"What's for supper?" took on a new meaning last Friday when 400 people met at a Capital Heights community center to talk about how to provide food to Marylanders who don't have enough to eat. This was the first annual conference of the Maryland Statewide Food Network, which includes workers as well as recipients of public, private and church food service programs.
The purpose of the conference, sponsored by the Maryland Food Committee Inc. and United Community Against Poverty, was to allow food service workers around the state to share their problems, ideas and resources, said network organizer Ann Crosson.
Participants met in workshops to discuss topics ranging from food stamps and school lunch programs, to how to run soup kitchens and food banks.
Jan Houbolt of the food committee said that the state's most pressing problem is the need for emergency food centers to serve the rapidly growing numbers of newly unemployed persons. Houbolt also said that 400,000 Marylanders--about a 10th of the population--have incomes below the poverty line. "The majority of those are female heads of households who don't vote." They must rely on some type of federal or state assistance designed by elected officials, Houbolt said.
The conference yielded good news as well as bad. For instance, the Prince George's County Red Cross has several hundred pounds of free cheese and butter left over from the last federal giveaway, but the District of Columbia has none and is trying to get more from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In one workshop, Elias Dorsey from the Baltimore City Health Department said that the nation's 10-year-old Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental food progam last month received $100 million from the new federal jobs bill. He said that Maryland will receive $1.5 million of that, but even then, many counties will be forced to drop some less needy families from the program, because the number of applicants is rising steadily.
In another session, food stamp workers talked over the problems that will be created by new regulations that require recipients to have their applications recertified every month instead of twice a year. People who do not submit their paperwork on time will not receive stamps for that month, program employes explained.
The paperwork is becoming overwhelming, said Maryland Food Committee worker Virginia Beverly. She also pointed out that the current rules are making things very difficult for newly unemployed persons who still have assests such as cars that make the family ineligible for food stamps.