Food banks are helping many

November 11, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

TRI-STATE - Luane Keyton of Hagerstown knows that putting food on the table can be difficult when you live on a fixed income, she said.

She is among an increasing number of Tri-State area residents who rely on help from food banks in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, coordinators in all three states said.

Keyton shops monthly at Food Resources Inc., a Hagerstown-based nonprofit agency that provides eligible Washington County residents and more than 55 member organizations with discounted food.


Keyton leads a group, or "pod," of 10 families who meet monthly at her home to choose from a menu of food and nonfood items available at Food Resources' warehouse on McRand Court. The families pay $10 per month for a 75- to 100-pound share of food and nonperishables, including canned and dry goods, fresh produce, frozen items and such household necessities as laundry detergent, she said.

Keyton and several pod volunteers collect, sort and distribute the items every month, she said.

Food Resources' Brown Bag program is designed to supplement the monthly food budgets of qualified participants while reducing stress on emergency food banks, Executive Director John Christy said.

"It's a real good program. I know there's a lot of families out there who really need help," said Keyton, 49. "If I didn't have Food Resources it would be rough because we live month to month. I know my family couldn't survive without it."

Keyton is one of many Washington County residents who will benefit from Food Resources' Bags of Plenty food drive, which runs through Nov. 25. Christy hopes donations to this year's drive will help make up for a 50 percent drop in food donations last year.

Former Food Resources Executive Director Brad Sell attributed that drop to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, after which many people sent their food and monetary donations to New York and Washington.

Locally, donations of canned, dried and frozen foods and nonfood necessities are crucial for the success of Food Resources and its member agencies, which have distributed about 650 tons of food so far this year, Christy said.

He hopes to collect 30,000 pounds of food in the current drive. Member agencies have requested 25,000 pounds of food, he said.

Food Resources gets only about 25 percent of its food through the Maryland Food Bank, so the agency depends on food and monetary donations to meet ever-increasing needs, Christy said.

"The economy has gone down and the need (for food) has definitely gone up," he said.

Increasing need

The Williamsport Food Bank, a Food Resources member agency, now serves between 70 and 100 families each month - an increase of nearly 40 percent over the number of families served in 2001, coordinator Mary Anna Kline said.

The size of families using the food bank at 35 W. Potomac St. has also increased from an average of two to three members to between six and eight members, Kline said.

"We can't buy food anywhere else as cheaply as we can buy it from Food Resources," she said. "I'm sure over the holidays we'll be even busier than we are now, and the food is going out as quickly as it comes in."

The Community Food Bank in Hagerstown has been supplying food to at least 1,000 people each month, coordinator Beth Stouffer said.

"We're getting more big families and more people using the food bank for the first time," said Stouffer, who counts on inexpensive food from Food Resources.

The affordable food from Food Resources also helps the Hancock-based Interfaith Service Coalition stretch its resources, Executive Director Debbie Cohill said.

She pays 12 cents per pound at Food Resources for edibles that benefit about 80 families now enrolled in the service coalition's Self Help in Partnership - or, SHIP - program. The program enables participants to buy groceries through the coalition at a reduced cost in return for a small fee and volunteer hours, Cohill said.

SHIP members pay $5.25 a month for the fresh produce, meats, canned goods and other food items the service coalition purchases from local grocers and larger food banks such as Food Resources, Cohill said.

"The grocery stores are much more expensive," she said. "Food Resources is very affordable for us."

Valuable resource

Food Resources' discounted offerings have enabled The Wells House Executive Director Charles Mooneyhan to cut the annual food budget for the halfway house for men fighting drug addiction from $16,000 to $6,000 despite a more than 40 percent increase in the number of clients served, he said.

Mooneyhan gets about 1,500 pounds of food from Food Resources each month to help feed the 17 Wells House residents, he said.

About 300 Berkeley County, W.Va., residents have signed up for Thanksgiving food baskets from the C-Cap Loaves & Fishes food bank in Martinsburg, and the bank this fall has been serving more clients each week than normal, volunteer Del Wightman said.

Loaves & Fishes gave food to about 40 families last week, he said.

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