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bob maginnis - 11/29/01

December 27, 2001

Terrorism's victims include the hungry



Now you can add one more group to the list of people who became victims as a result of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 - the hungry people who depend on local food banks to get by.

Brad Sell, executive director of Food Resources, Inc., a United Way agency that assists local food banks, said this week the outpouring of support for the cities affected by terrorism has left other areas hurting for resources.

The agency runs an annual Bags of Plenty drive, which distributes bags in The Herald-Mail newspapers for people to fill with donated food. Food Resources had hoped that drive, combined with the Kids Helping Kids and Scouting for Food drives would draw 60,000 pounds of food. But as on Wednesday only 38,290 pounds of donated goods had been collected.

Combined with that, donations from food manufacturers and retailers fell by 50 percent after Sept. 11, as those businesses rushed to respond to the need in New York and Washington, D.C.

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The amount of support was so great, Sell said, that agencies handling the distribution have run out of warehouse space and are trying to rent more.

"It's tremendous to see it," Sell said, but added that the shift came at a time when local needs are increasing as well.

Sell said that as a result of welfare reform, more people are working, but the minimum-wage pay they're making isn't covering a family's basic expenses.

Because of that and the economy's downturn, food distribution to the area's emergency food pantries has increased by 50 percent, just since Sept. 11. And the number of families seeking help has grown from 1,286 to 1,750 per month.

It's easy to cite statistics on the growing problem of hunger in the United States. Second Harvest, a national umbrella organization which links many agencies like Food Resources, just released its latest national study on the subject.

The entire report is available on the Web at secondharvest.org. In a nutshell it says that in 2001, 23.3 million Americans sought and received help from emergency food pantries, up 2 million from 1997.

Locally, 75 percent of the families being served have at least one employed adult, 41 percent of those served are children under 18 and nearly 20 percent are senior citizens.

For some of them, asking for help isn't easy, according to Beth Stouffer, who's been in charge of the food bank at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Hagerstown's West End for many years.

I stopped by Tuesday to talk to Stouffer about the people she's seeing at the bank, located in a room in the church basement since 1972.

"We see a lot young working people and lot of single moms," Stouffer said, adding that a nurse from one agency was coming by to pick up food for a pregnant woman whose cupboards were bare.

"We've had a lot more people coming in and saying that they have nothing in the house," she said.

To get certified to visit the food bank, people must visit the Community Action Council, the Department of Social Services or the Salvation Army to fill out an application.

Once they receive a card they can visit St. Mark's four times a year, but there's a local network of food pantries that work together so eligible recipients can go somewhere once a month. St. Mark's also receives fresh produce every Wednesday, Stouffer said.

It's hard to gauge what demand will be on a given day, Stouffer said. Because Thanksgiving was last week, many regular recipients may have received food baskets, she said.

"We were very busy yesterday, but no one has visited today yet. We did serve about 12,000 people last month," Stouffer said.

No sooner had she finished that sentence than a couple walked in. They're first-timers, she said, and notes that in previous years, by November she and other volunteers had gotten to know most of the regulars.

"We're seeing more people than we've ever seen before," Stouffer said, adding that she usually asks them where they're from.

"Many have come from Frederick and from Baltimore and they say the cost of living is lower here," she said.

More senior citizens are visiting as well, Stouffer said, with some from the senior citizen complexes getting food to feed other seniors who are either too proud or physically unable to do it themselves.

Like to help?. If so, take donations of canned or dry food to St. Mark's at 601 W. Washington St. any weekday between 1 and 3 p.m.

In addition, Food Resources and the Maryland Symphony Orchestra will hold a food drive on Dec. 8 and 9, with barrels at the theater and at a number of downtown retail locations. Or if you're not going downtown, you can send a check to Food Resources, Inc., 220 McRand Court, Hagerstown, Md., 21740.

Still not sure? If you applauded when they ended welfare, consider the fact that many on the rolls didn't have the training to get a high-paying job. Until they get that, they need your help.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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