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Job losses driving more to food bank

December 22, 2008

Last week, Ruth Anne Callaham was getting ready to go pick up some things at a craft store near the Valley Mall when she got a phone call.

Callaham, the executive director of Food Resources, Inc., said the woman told her she was "between paychecks" and needed food for herself and her son.

Callaham asked her if she pick it up, but the woman said she didn't drive and walked to work from her room in a motel near the mall.

Callham took her two of the boxes donated by Food Lion as part of its "Feeding America" program.

Each contains one package each of brown gravy, tuna fish, macaroni and cheese, fruit salad, corn bread, black-eyed peas, wild rice and gelatin dessert. She also took a box of cereal for the child.

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Not a sumptuous feast, but nutritious food that Callaham hopes will carry the woman until her next paycheck.

"We used to get one call like a month. Now we're hearing 'I'm between paychecks,' 'I've lost my job' and 'I've lost my home,'" Callaham said.

Callaham's agency is a member of the United Way of Washington County and said her operation -- and the people it serves -- will suffer if the charitable appeal doesn't make this year's $2 million goal.

"That's part of what us nonprofits do. If United Way doesn't give me a 12-month funding line, I can't go out there on calls like that," she said.

With an annual budget of $350,000, Callaham said Food Resources serves about 2,000 people per month.

Clients are served in a variety of ways, she said. In addition to helping supply local food banks in churches and town halls, Callaham said that Food Resources also has a pantry on wheels.

That takes food to disabled people and senior citizens who cannot get out to a distribution center.

For every pound of food seniors get, Callaham said that seniors are asked to donate back 20 cents, to offset the $1,000 per month cost of running freezers.

Then there's the brown-bag program, which targets the working poor. In exchange for some labor, they get 75 pounds per month and are asked to donate 15 cents per pound.

Brown-bag recipients are pre-qualified, Callaham said. They can participate if they are eligible for food stamps or live in a subsidized housing project.

The big question: What would happen if the United Way and the Washington County Gaming Commission had to reduce their donations to Food Resources?

"We are a well-run organization. We have an investment account, with six months worth of operating expenses," she said.

But there are big costs, too. The agency runs a 20-foot refrigerated truck to the Maryland Food Bank in Baltimore once per week. When its refrigeration unit needs work -- about three times a year, she said -- it's not cheap.

The Maryland Food Bank requires a donation of 15 cents per every pound of food it provides, too.

If the donations fall off, or the campaign comes up short of goal, that could mean that a senior citizen who now gets 20 pounds of food might only get 10.

"When you shrink that, you lose your nutritional value," she said.

Winter is food-bank season, she said, because that's when people think of those in need.

"The strength of what we do is in the summer season. Because of the strength of the United Way, we have the ability to think about people when other people don't," she said.

If you haven't made a contribution to the United Way, please do. Think about the senior citizens, living alone, who depend on the program.

Think about the single mothers with children. Maybe they didn't make the best choices, but their children shouldn't go hungry as a result.

To donate online, go to www.unitedwaywashcounty.org/ or send a check to the United Way, 33 W. Franklin St., Suite 203, Hagerstown MD 21742.

For more on Food Resources Inc., go to the member agency part of the United Way Web site.

Bob Maginnis is Opinion editor of The Herald-Mail.

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