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Demand at food banks rises with jobless rate

Washington Co. 'food insecurity rate' more than 13%

April 03, 2011|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com
  • Danny Gossard, warehouse manager, unloads stacks of crackers Friday to be stocked at Food Resources Inc. in Hagerstown.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON COUNTY — The website for Feeding America states that Washington County has a “food insecurity rate” of more than 13 percent — more than 19,000 people whose incomes and circumstances leave them at risk for going hungry.

Among those was a middle-aged woman who went to the Washington County Community Action Council’s food bank last week to pick up groceries for herself, her daughter and her disabled sister.

“It means a lot for people out there struggling to make ends meet, especially with the economy the way it is now,” said the woman, who once worked in warehousing, but has not had a job in two years.

The woman was eligible to use area food banks a few years ago and signed up again earlier this year. For about a year, she has been picking up groceries for her disabled sister, she said.

Bread, salad, dried beans, canned corn, ramen noodles, crackers and instant mashed potatoes were in the grocery bags she hauled from the food bank, along with laundry detergent and fabric softener.

The unemployment rate for Washington County was 10.6 percent in February, compared to 11.9 in February 2010 and just 4.8 percent during the same month in 2008, according to the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

With higher unemployment comes higher demand.

Demand has increased significantly over the years, said Ruth Anne Callaham, executive director of Food Resources, which distributes food to about 20 food banks and pantries in the county. There are not only more people signing up, but a more diverse group of people, she said.

“It’s not just the generational poor,” said Callaham, but people who have not had to resort to such services until they were forced to by economic circumstances.

A number of local food banks require residents to present eligibility cards, which can be obtained through the council office at 101 Summit Ave. David Jordan, executive director of the Washington County Community Action Council, said nine of the food banks ask clients to present the cards, but many other food pantries do not require them.

The council issues about 125 food cards a month, said Cindy Hockenbury, an administrator with the council. In the 2007-08 fiscal year, the council issued 1,441 cards for a total of 3,015 people in households ranging from one to nine people.

Among that number, 1,959 people were using food bank cards for the first time, Hockenbury said. The numbers dropped slightly in 2008-09 as identification and income verification guidelines became stricter, but the numbers rose again in 2009-10, she said.

During the 2009-10 fiscal year, 1,500 cards were issued for households with a total of 3,210 clients. However, those receiving the cards for the first time hit 2,311, according to council numbers.

Those who supplement their food through the area’s pantries and banks often make use of other programs, said Kimberly Buchanan, the council’s director of development.

The woman who visited the council food bank last week said she also receives heating assistance through the council, some assistance with rent from another source and “a small amount of food stamps” for herself and her daughter.

Different food banks have different policies, some allowing more than one visit a month, Food Resources Program Director Ed Kennedy said.

On the Web

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A list of area food banks with days and hours of operations is available at the Food Resources website, www.foodresources.org

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