The Archdiocese of Washington is looking to the Maryland Department of Human Resources for at least $50,000 for a regional food warehouse that advocates say is critically needed for storing and distributing food in southern Prince George's, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties.

"Southern Maryland is one of the only regions in the state that has nothing in the way of a large warehouse for food storage," said Paco Blake, executive director of Catholic Charities for the tricounty region of Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties. Catholic Charities is the archdiocese's main charitable arm.

Kathleen Scheg, legislative coordinator for the archdiocese, said the need for such a facility is increasing because "more and more people are showing up at nonprofit churches asking for food . . . the number of hungry people is growing in Maryland."

The archdiocese initially requested $186,000 for the facility, but Anita Marshall, director of DHR's Office of Adult and Family Services, said it was impossible to fund that amount "without cutting other essential programs. We reduced the amount but are hopeful that a solid $50,000 from the public sector will stimulate private donations and spur a public-private partnership."

However, Linda Eisenberg, assistant director of the Maryland Food Committee and a member of the Governor's Task Force on Food and Nutrition, said the $50,000 will not pay for the warehouse, truck and refrigerators that Catholic Charities wants for its southern Maryland food distribution.

"It will mean further stretching dollars already spread very thin in an area where only 25 percent of the needy are being helped," Eisenberg said.

In filing the original request, Scheg said that "St. Mary's and Charles are currently grossly underserved. There is no good way to get food down there."

When Catholic Charities began distributing food in June 1983, Scheg said, it gave away 90 bags of groceries in a month.

During 1983-84, the organization distributed 456,602 pounds of food in the District, lower Prince George's and the three southern Maryland counties, she said.

"Now we're averaging over 900 bags a month and a million pounds of food a year," said Scheg.

From July 1984 through June 1985, Catholic Charities distributed food to 5,433 people in southern Maryland, Scheg said. Catholic Charities also gave 65,731 pounds of food to other private groups for distribution in Charles, St. Mary's, and Calvert counties, she said.

In addition, between 7,000 and 10,000 families got food through the federal food program during 1985 in Charles, St. Mary's and Calvert counties, said Lindy Ward Chinault, director of emergency services for Tri-County Community Action, a private, nonprofit organization that administers the quarterly federal food program in the area.

"When we first started in 1981, we had about 4,000 families, but we are seeing more and more people who fall into the 'working poor' category . . . . ," Chinault said. "They have jobs, but they cannot cover their needs, especially in winter when heating bills often come before food." Chinault said food storage sites in the tricounty area and southern Prince George's are "grossly inadequate" and amount to a "bunch of little pantries all over the region."

Scheg said that if the regional warehouse is built, food storage for both the federal and privately supported food programs could be consolidated under one roof. Catholic Charities and the tricounty action group already work together on emergency fuel and shelter assistance.

Scheg said a centrally located warehouse would also enable Catholic Charities to accept large food donations from area grocers -- "something we've been unable to do in the past for fear of spoilage," Blake said.

Tri-County Community Action is especially anxious to find a new home for the federal commodity food program because Charles County officials have told the group it must vacate office space it paid the county about $7,000 to rent last year.

"We are hoping that a church group will let us put the warehouse on their property rent free," Scheg said.

The archdiocese's initial funding request, Scheg said, sought $15,000 for a truck to distribute food in the region, money for a walk-in freezer and refrigerator, and salary for a warehouse manager. The archdiocese also asked for funds for shelving, a conveyor belt, a forklift, food scales and cabinets, she said.