BALTIMORE – The shelves within the interior of the vast, run-down warehouse have seen better days.
Although vats of concentrated juice, racks of bread, boxes of Liquid PlumR and diapers lined some sections, the amount of food and perishable items at the Maryland Food Bank is at an all-time low, according to anti-poverty officials.
The number of people served by food pantries and the number of children in homeless shelters have sharply increased at a time of economic prosperity, according to a Center for Poverty Solutions report released Friday.
Pantries throughout Maryland distributed 59 percent more food bags this year, according to the report, based on a survey of 200 emergency service providers.
“This is absolutely a crisis,” said Rob Hess, president and chief executive officer for the center, a non-profit Baltimore group. It’s a problem in the city and throughout the state.
Food pantries fed 30 percent more people in September compared to last September, according to the report.
“If you had this many sick people, there would be doctors flying in from all parts of the world,” Hess said.
The Maryland Food Bank distributed 10 percent more food from July to September while contributions increased just 2 percent, said Bill Ewing, executive director of the Maryland Food Bank. The bank supplies food to 400 pantries in the city and 300 to 400 statewide.
The bins have never been so low, Ewing said, pointing to giant cages on the floor only a quarter filled with canned corn and green beans.
As part of the release of the report and to show the need for food, Ewing and others from the food bank sponsored a tour to a local church where the need for food is great. They loaded the van with brown bags brimming with perishables.
An older black man watched the van drive by as he waited for business outside, a hand-written cardboard sign saying “Brake work” next to him.
Just a few blocks later, the van arrived at St. Gregory the Great Church on North Gilmor Street, where a crowd of 20 awaited the church’s weekly distribution of bread.
Many homeless and jobless people live in the area, said the Rev. Damien Nalepa, church pastor since 1981. Many more come from jails.
“They have no resources,” Nalepa said. As another truck of food pulled into the lot, the crowd, now more than 30, flocked to the van, tightening their grip on white plastic bags and brown grocery bags. Two men pushed shopping carts. The number of people going to pantries has increased, including many people no longer on welfare, said Bruce Michalec, executive director of the Anne Arundel Food Bank. The bank gives food to 18,000 households and 58 pantries and kitchens in the county.
Living wages need to match the minimum wage, he said, something anti-poverty advocates support.
“It’s a great economy if you’re a part of it,” Ewing said. Food banks receive food from a variety of sources, including food drives, donations, state and federal assistance.
The public gives around the holidays, but people are hungry every day, Ewing said. Maryland also receives $1.4 million in USDA products through the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program, according to Kirk Wilborne, a program specialist for the Office of Transitional Services. Approximately 300 pantries and 70 soup kitchens receive help, he said. This year the state received an additional $2.3 million from a federal surplus, so pantries and kitchens received “bonus items,” Wilborne said. More meats, such as chuck roast, pork roast and ham were brought to soup kitchens, he said. The Maryland Emergency Food Program also distributes $500,000 to local soup kitchens and pantries, Wilborne said.