At Elizabeth House, a food pantry and meal kitchen in Laurel, Judy Kuntz eyes the shelves of canned fruit and vegetables and worries.
Even in good weather, families come here for groceries they cannot afford to buy. Now, with the arrival of cold weather, rising natural gas and oil prices will make times tougher. If they pay their heating bill, they will come up short of money for food, Kuntz said.
"We are part of their budgets," she said. "As people get their gas bills, it's going to be much worse."
Yet Elizabeth House is starting the winter with lean reserves.
"Donations have gone elsewhere," Kuntz said.
Emergency food supplies around Maryland were depleted by relief efforts this year in the Gulf of Mexico region after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Local donors focused their giving there, and the Maryland Food Bank and the District-based Capital Area Food Bank, which serves Montgomery and Prince George's counties, rushed food to survivors.
"I would have taken the whole warehouse down there," said William G. Ewing, Maryland Food Bank's executive director, reflecting on the devastation he saw on a trip to the region. "People were flat-out ruined."
Maryland has the third-highest median income in the nation. Yet more than 470,000 Marylanders are living in poverty. The state's poverty rate rose in 2004 for the second straight year, to 8.8 percent.
Nearly half of the people who get assistance at the Baltimore-based Maryland Food Bank say they must choose between paying for food or for heat and other utilities, according to officials there. "Month after month, they are making choices," said Teresa Ernst, a spokeswoman for the food bank, which serves 900 food pantries, soup kitchens and emergency shelters.
Ewing is confident that donations will come. But the major Stuff-A-Bus campaign came up short this fall, leaving less on the shelves for the winter months.
At the food bank's Eastern Shore branch in Salisbury, manager Yvonne Terry said the Kids Helping Kids food drive, which brought in 60,000 pounds of food last year, has netted half that amount this year.
"Donors were tapped out," she said.
At the Capital Area Food Bank, food and money donations are down by 11 and 18 percent, respectively, this year, said President Lynn Brantley.
Donors "have really been focused on the Gulf Coast," she said.
Brantley said she hopes that after the hurricanes, people will focus on the broader causes of poverty -- including inadequate schools and health care -- that affect many in the Gulf region and at home.
"For a little while, Katrina opened the door for us as a nation to see poverty," she said. "But somehow that window is closing."
The following food banks are among those accepting donations:
* Elizabeth House, at 308 Gorman Ave. in Laurel. Nonperishable foods every day from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monetary donations may be mailed to PO Box 36, Laurel, Md. 20725.
* The Maryland Food Bank, at 2200 Halethorpe Farms Rd. in Baltimore. Nonperishable food donations weekdays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Until Jan. 1, Marylanders also can stop by any Giant Food, Safeway, Shoppers Food or Superfresh to make donations. The food bank can also provide information about sites in other counties. For more information, call 410-737-8282.
* The Howard County Food Bank, on Route 108, accepts donations during limited hours. Call 410-313-6440 to schedule a drop-off.
* The Eastern Shore Distribution Center of the Maryland Food Bank, 28500 Owens Branch Rd. in Salisbury. Nonperishable donations on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
* The Capital Area Food Bank, 645 Taylor St. NE in the District. Nonperishable donations on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.