BALTIMORE – It’s 10 o’clock on a warm Friday morning in April as nearly 100 hungry people form a long, winding line at the dining room entrance of Our Daily Bread.
Some have been there since 9. In the shadow of the large brick building, they chat or just stand in line and wait.
From outside the dining room — walled with large, tinted glass panes — the patient diners-to-be can see the danishes and doughnuts laid out at each place setting.
At exactly 10:30, the doors will open for lunch, admitting all who await entry, no questions asked.
The numbers of people coming to Our Daily Bread, a local food kitchen and employment center, have been up as Baltimore limps through the recession. And, like so many of the city’s charities, donations have plummeted, making it even more difficult for nonprofits to serve hungry people who have lost their jobs or homes.
As the need at Our Daily Bread increases, its funds haven’t.
Larger foundations that help support the soup kitchen and other charities have seen their endowments shrink, making it harder for them to give at the same level.
United Way of Central Maryland, which annually donates millions of dollars to education, income, and health and safety programs, has had to cut its grants by 10 percent this year.
The Weinberg Foundation, among the city’s largest, temporarily stopped reviewing requests for funds. The Maryland Food Bank, which has seen demand soar, is trying new ways to find food. Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity has picked up some volunteers but is struggling to get extra grant funding.
Meanwhile, Baltimore charities have managed to survive with smaller donations, more volunteers, and new, resourceful fundraising methods.
Aaron Kennedy, the volunteer coordinator at Our Daily Bread, says the charity saw its funding drying up and began urgently asking for help.
“We’ve really had to turn it back up and really solicit a lot more involvement from some of the groups that have historically supported us,” he says. “We just put a big push out, you know, through our internal efforts, whether it’s just e-mail blasts…or just flyering here at the center, and just notifying our volunteer base in addition to the greater Catholic community.”
What is perhaps more significant, Kennedy says, is the difference in clients the charity has seen in last six or eight months. More of the people seeking help are Hispanic. And Our Daily Bread is feeding many more families.
“We’re serving different types of people who are coming down here,” he says, “maybe not coming down regularly, but you know they heard of us. They’re coming down because suddenly there’s a very acute need.”
Cedric Howard, who has been a cook at Our Daily Bread for nine years, has noticed more children in the dining room.
The rise in the number of kids as guests is “the No. 1,” he says. “When school (is) out, we see more kids than we (have) ever seen.”
The Employment Center at Our Daily Bread has been busy, too.
Kennedy says a year ago the jobs center did not have many clients after noon or 1 p.m. “But now we see it’s quite a bit busier in the employment center well through the afternoon now, basically until three or four in the afternoon.”
And at the Jobs Club, where staff members help the unemployed with resumes, job searches and coordinating with employers, Lester Warfield, a caseworker, has noticed a significant rise in attendance.
“We had an average, say, 25 clients come to Jobs Club” every day, Warfield says. “And now, it’s more like 35 to 40.”
With more people laid off, the staff has seen clients who had steady, managerial jobs competing for the same jobs as clients who have been long unemployed. “Most of the guys who are coming down (from the managerial ranks) are getting the jobs,” he says.
One of Our Daily Bread’s food suppliers is also feeling the pressure brought on by the recession.
“We’re seeing the need has increased 25 to 50 percent — even more — and, you know, we’re able to meet that need, but it’s almost like we’re teetering on the edge,” says Shanna Yetman, communications manager for the Maryland Food Bank.
The Maryland Food Bank annually supplies millions of pounds of food to about 1,000 kitchens pantries, shelters and centers, and began noticing a distinct increase in need in March 2008.
“Food is moving out of our warehouse pretty quickly,” says Yetman. “Our shelves were really empty from about April ’08 to November ’08.”
Since then, she says, “we’ve been developing a lot more creative ways to get food.” The Food Bank’s “food sourcer,” who negotiates with suppliers, has met with Giant and Safeway grocery stores, as well as farmers, to increase the Food Bank’s reserves.
“We’ve put out the call to action to local TV stations and newspapers, saying ‘Hey, we need food,'” Yetman says.
At Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity, which builds and renovates homes for low-income families, “We’ve actually seen individual donations go up, but we’ve seen corporate donations go down,” says Mike Mitchell, the executive director.
“The foundations in general are going to go down because the stock market’s gone down, and they make grants based on the funding they earn on their assets,” Mitchell says. “If their assets have dropped, they’re not going to be giving at the same level.”
The Weinberg Foundation, a nonprofit that gives grants to organizations across the country, expects that its assets will diminish from $2.3 billion to $2 billion in fiscal year 2009, a 13-percent decrease, says Chief Operating Officer Rachel Monroe.
The foundation announced last November that it would stop reviewing grant requests until April 1.
United Way of Central Maryland has seen its endowment, made up of funds provided by investors, drop from $18 million to $9 million, says Amrit Dhillon, a spokesperson.
As the stock market falls, those investors have less money to put into the organization. “This means less money goes back to the communities we serve,” Dhillon says.
But Habitat for Humanity has seen an unexpected bright spot.
Much of Habitat’s construction is done by local volunteers. In recent months, Mike Mitchell, president of Chesapeake Habitat says, the numbers have gone up.
“We’re doing fine with volunteers,” he says. “In fact, we’ve got some people that are laid off and they’ve come to us” and volunteered.
Mitchell has also planned to go to unemployment centers to pick up volunteers, armed with the possibility that they can make contacts through Habitat that could lead to better jobs.
Because of the increase in small donations and volunteers, Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity is doing all right, but Mitchell is aware that things could change for the worse when their fiscal year begins July 1.
“There’s a lot of anxiety among staff and management about what’s going to happen,” he says. “But you can’t make yourself a victim of expectation. You just need to plug ahead.” And Mitchell plans to plug ahead, exert optimism and keep building houses.
“We’re not closing our doors,” he says. “We’re going to keep doing our mission.”