At this country crossroads, nicknamed "Dogpatch," drug traffic had reached epidemic proportions this year, Maryland state police say. Buyers from all over Southern Maryland converged on the parking lots next to two bars and two stores in the Charles County community to purchase narcotics from dealers who congregated there, residents told police.

After a 15-month undercover investigation, seven suspects were arrested by 75 state troopers in a predawn raid Nov. 18; nine other suspects were arrested in the ensuing days.

But despite the publicity surrounding the raid and arrests, the drug traffic has continued, police said. Last Friday night, an undercover officer bought drugs at the corner and made three more arrests, police reported.

"It's been basically an undiscovered area. And because it's remote and people tended not to call the police, it didn't get much attention," said Lt. Jesse N. Graybill, commander of the state police barracks in Waldorf.

"But the citizens moving into the area are a little bit annoyed," he said. "Their calling, raising heck, prompted us to go back there."

Residents of largely low-income Malcolm -- a name of uncertain origins but much preferred to Dogpatch -- say they are fighting for their community as never before.

"We've had our school and homes renovated, had water and septic put in," said Theresa Strong, 40, a native who moved away and returned to raise her family and head up Malcolm Area Self-Help (MASH). "But drugs may be the biggest problem we've ever faced. We'd like to put a sign up saying, 'Drug dealers and users, stay away. This is our community.' "

About 250 persons live near the center of the alleged drug sales action, the corner where Beantown, Horsehead and Aquasco roads meet in northeastern Charles County. The community, which has high unemployment, lies a few hundred yards from the Prince George's County line.

Detective Sgt. Steve Rupard of the state police says Malcolm's bars attract patrons from the Prince George's communities of Aquasco, Brandywine and Clinton. Of 19 arrests made by state police since November, only seven suspects were from Malcolm.

The tiny rural crossroads got its nickname from a bar named "Dogpatch," after the hometown of the cartoon character Li'l Abner. The bar is long gone, but the name stuck. The commercial center of Malcolm now consists of the Birdland Bar, a Sunoco station and a large brick building with another tavern, liquor store and Tippett's Grocery.

"No hanging around at any time!" say signs inside the grocery, which Helen Tippett has operated since 1968.

"I think everybody around here is good people," she says of Malcolm's residents, but adds that it's been rough keeping outsiders away from her store.

"Anybody hangs by my doorstep, I tell 'em move it," she said. "That's one thing: They respect me enough not to [buy and sell drugs] by my door. . . .

"The drunks know I don't let 'em in here," she added. "They're not allowed to bring any open beer and liquor in here, either."

Elsewhere in Malcolm, on roads where tidy ramblers alternate with rusty trailers, live others who say they are fighting to better their community.

On food-distribution day last week, the community's only church, the Redeem House of Prayer Church of God, was filled with people.

Free federal food is distributed to the needy there every three months.

Among the concerns of the community, "The main thing is money," said Delphine Washington, a 40-year resident who was helping hand out the butter, cheese and other items. "There are a whole lot of people who live in Malcolm that are not rich folks."

In September, about 100 households got free food at the church. Last week, 65 families had come and gone by 1 p.m., when organizers posted a sign saying, "Out of everything but honey and rice."

The Rev. Morlean Gray, pastor for 20 years, said wistfully as she watched the families, "It's service night tonight, and maybe about five will show up. But when they give away food, you see how many there are . . . That's the only time they come in here, for cheese and butter.

"They don't have too many jobs down here, I'll tell you that," said the 75-year-old pastor. She said the drug activity has been disturbing.

"Oh my Lord, I was scared to go in the store down there," she said. "They needed to have that big raid. It was terrible -- young boys out there selling that stuff."

Since police swooped down on Malcolm, said one man standing with a group outside the Birdland Bar last week, "there are no drugs. People don't hardly do anything."

Two days later, three persons were arrested for allegedly selling drugs to a policeman outside the tavern.

The Birdland Bar is being run by Agnes Hester (Sis) Savoy Wills, the wife of Bernard Wills, who used to operate the bar until he was sentenced to prison on a drug conviction.

Although her husband and a son have been jailed on drug charges, she said, "I don't fool with things like that. If I can't make a living otherwise, I don't make it."

"If something happens outside, I might not know about it," she said. "I'm trying to do the best I can. . . .

"Inside, I tell them, 'If you start anything, I'm gonna call the police,' " she said.

"Maybe one of these days, they'll straighten it up a little bit outside and things will be better. Because everybody's talking about it, you know. Knock on wood. I try to serve God the best I can.