BALTIMORE – Women, children and single-parent families are most often the victims of hunger in Maryland, according to a study released Wednesday by the Maryland Food Bank.
More than 60 percent of adults seeking food assistance are women, while more than 40 percent of those served are children, the report said.
Numbers of those seeking food assistance, the report says, may grow as the effects of an unstable economy swayed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks take hold.
“The rise in the number of hungry people throughout the U.S. over the past four years is striking because it occurred even as we were engaged in one of the strongest economic climates in recent history,” said Bill Ewing, executive director of the Maryland Food Bank, one of 104 food banks participating in the national study.
“The accelerated downturn of the economy in recent months may deal a powerful blow to those already seeking assistance and will likely bring others into church food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters for help,” he said.
Maryland’s numbers are mostly consistent with national figures, according to a similar study also released Wednesday by America’s Second Harvest. More than 23 million Americans received hunger relief in 2001, an increase of about 2 million since 1997.
Hunger is not only an inner-city problem that effects the chronically unemployed, the study said.
Almost half of Maryland households receiving assistance included a working adult, 10 percent more than national statistics.
More than 10 million pounds of food were distributed by the Maryland Food Bank in 2001 to about 900 food pantries, soup kitchens and emergency shelters.
State poverty rates – at 9.5 percent – are just below national figures, although Baltimore’s poverty rate is more than twice the normal metropolitan figure.
Although Maryland has substantially reduced welfare rolls since 1996, almost 500,000 Marylanders live below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census.
Hunger advocates will urge the General Assembly for more funding of two state programs to combat the problems highlighted in the study.
The Maryland Emergency Food Program and the Emergency and Transitional Housing and Services Program provide state funds for soup kitchens and food pantries, as well as homeless shelters, said Laura Howell, spokeswoman for the Center for Poverty Solutions.
“The funding has not even come close to keeping pace with providers’ needs,” said Howell. “We ask our fellow citizens (and government) to do everything they can to help and make sure a safety net is in place.”
Almost half of Maryland Food Bank clients had to choose between food or utilities and heating fuel, while one-third had to choose between food, paying rent or health care, the study said.
In the past two months, demand for food has increased as the economy worsened.
“We actually (have) a lot of families who have moved down here from New York, because they have lost their jobs from Sept. 11,” said Lisa Knickmeyer, director of St. Michael Outreach Center in Baltimore. “They have moved down here because it’s cheaper to live here and there is rumor that there are jobs here.”
Current programs like food stamps and The Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program take too long to provide services and leave the most needy without money for basic essentials, said Knickmeyer.
Prince George’s and Montgomery counties were not part of the study. They are served by the Capital Area Food Bank.