ANNAPOLIS – About two weeks before Thanksgiving, Berlin First Baptist Church had to close its weekly food bank an hour early.
After serving 28 families in two hours that day, the church ran out of food and had to wait until the next Tuesday to reopen.
“We just put a sign on the door that we were closed,” said Sharon Parsons, church secretary for Berlin First Baptist Church. “People came, but we couldn’t help them.”
It was the first time recently that the food bank in Berlin had to close early, but Parsons said that people understood because it is an emergency food bank and would be open again the following week.
As the economy worsens, church food banks and pantries in Maryland are noticing there is a higher demand for food from the public.
Berlin First Baptist Church is receiving 70 to 100 families a month, and in the first three weeks of November, it had already served 65 families. This time last year, the food bank distributed to 50-60 families a month.
Brooks United Methodist Church in St. Leonard is used to serving eight or nine families, but is now finding that at least 20 families are coming to its monthly distribution.
Some unlikely people are now visiting the churches for food.
“What we are noticing is that people who once donated food or money are now going to soup kitchens and food pantries,” said Shanna Yetman, communications director for Maryland Food Bank.
And while most church food pantries are able to meet the demand so far, they have had to reduce the amount they distribute per family and are worried about the future.
“So far, we’ve been able to give everybody food,” said Jacqueline Page, a volunteer with the Brooks United Methodist Church food pantry. “Sometimes we’re not able to give them as much as we’re accustomed to, but we’re able to give to everybody.”
Maryland Food Bank, which supplies food for many distribution centers, has seen a 25 to 50 percent increase in food requests. And while it has kept up with the demand, Maryland Food Bank has had to purchase more than half of its food, where usually almost all of it has been donated by the food industry.
“The donated product is drying up because the food industry people are not donating as much food to us,” Yetman said.
Food companies like Giant usually donate items that are safe but not sellable, said Barry Scher, spokesman for Giant Food.
“We have less food we donate because we have become better merchants,” Scher said.
As Giant has found ways to have fewer dented cans and perishable food with blemishes, it has less food to donate. They continue to market for their own charity campaigns, Good Neighbor Food and Funds Drive and Checkout Hunger.
Individual churches are doing their own marketing to help meet the demand by asking their distributors, church members and the community for more food.
Riva Trace Baptist Church in Davidsonville has appealed to Anne Arundel County Food Bank for extra food in the last four months. Brooks United Methodist Church put a note in its newsletter and a box in the church asking for food.
Most church food pantries do not have a plan for higher demand except to make their donors more aware. For now, they are relying on their faith.
“I just pray we have enough to give away each time,” said John Tatterson, one of the church elders at Riva Trace Baptist Church. “So far, we’ve had that.”