Jane Murphy grew up in Montgomery County, in poverty. She says she has never left either.

Montgomery County residents earn an annual average of $65,500 per household; Murphy's family brings in less than $11,000.

It is not a county "that gives you a break" when it comes to housing or job opportunities, the 28-year-old Silver Spring resident said yesterday, as she prepared to lug home a sack of surplus food from a county center in Wheaton.

While Murphy has gripes about the county and its government, she acknowledged that she was pleased to have learned about the food being provided this week by the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Surplus federal cheese, milk, butter, flour and other food, distributed four times a year at 13 locations around the county, is available through one of the array of assistance programs still needed by a growing number of people in the second-richest county in America.

Murphy joined a steady stream of close to 200 county residents yesterday in the food distribution room at the Holiday Park Senior Center off Veirs Mill Road. It was one of the places where bags of food were available in Montgomery this week for recipients of welfare, Medicaid and other assistance based largely on income.

There has been an increase in demand at the Holiday Park center, which attracts hundreds of older citizens from the surrounding neighborhood to its lunch and recreation activities. Most of the increase is from the county's burgeoning older population, said Ed Malone, a retired Defense Department employe who is in charge of the center's distribution.

Among those who came to the center were older Hispanic couples, divorced women living in rented rooms, a retired accountant from Chile who works part time cleaning at the senior center, a young father with his two children, a 54-year-old former construction worker living on disability payments, a foster mother of four teen-agers, a distinguished-looking retired man in a business suit, and an elderly couple who arrived by taxi. A center staff member said they live in a $300,000 town house but are eligible for food because of their limited income.

Of 633,000 Montgomery County residents, 27,900 are considered "very poor" and eligible for a full range of subsidies. In all, the county classifies 73,100 of its residents as "poor," or living on well below the median household income of $41,853.

"Hunger in the county is alarming when you figure that two soup kitchens together are feeding 185 people a night" and when "221 beds in shelters in the county are occupied every night by homeless people," said Kenneth Brown, director of Manna Food Center in Rockville, which administers the food program. "We try to think of ways to reach them, but it gets a little frustrating sometimes."

On average, 15,000 to 16,000 county residents in about 5,000 families partake of the federal food each quarter, Brown said.

"Some who need it don't get it," he said. "Some just don't want to be bothered with standing in line to get a couple pounds of cheese and butter." But others simply don't know it's available, he said.

Murphy, who learned just recently about the surplus food, is still bitter about the brush-off her mother got from the county when she needed public assistance to raise five children in Wheaton. Murphy said she has worked on and off since she was 16.

She said her family shops with food stamps, keeps a garden and receives government assistance with food for their baby.

Relatives in Kentucky had told her about the food program, said Murphy, whose husband works in a fast-food restaurant, "but I never knew they had it here . . . . "