BALTIMORE – Michelle Obama’s call to service inspired more than 20 spouses of Maryland elected officials to pack 4,800 Thanksgiving meals for families in need at the Maryland Food Bank Tuesday in recognition of the growing urgency of the hungry in their own state.
Audra Harrison, communications manager at the food bank, said that the facility has seen up to a 50 percent increase in demand this year due to the economy, especially from middle-class families.
“Some of these people thought they would never need to ask for help,” Harrison said, adding that some families have been pre-registered for Thanksgiving meals since May.
Maryland’s unemployment rate is at 7.2 percent, up from 4.8 percent last October. And one in every 16,867 properties in Maryland is facing foreclosure, a frequency higher than all surrounding states.
“I think we’re all aware of how tough it is in today’s world,” said Kay Ruppersberger, wife of Timonium Democratic Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger. “Marylanders are suffering.”
“With such a concentrated event like this we can really get out a lot of food,” Harrison said.
Myrna Cardin, the wife of Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, got the idea for the event, “Elect to End Hunger,” when the First Lady organized a similar event for congressional spouses at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington in April.
“I was sitting next to Kay Ruppersberger and Maya Cummings and we said, ‘Why don’t we do this in Maryland?” Cardin said.
“I feel that as a spouse of an elected official I don’t get asked to do much, and I wish I did,” Cardin added.
While Obama’s event only recruited congressional spouses, Cardin wanted to include spouses of elected officials in local governments as well. She sent letters to as many spouses as she could to recruit for her event, but had trouble finding some addresses, she said.
About 90 volunteers from the food bank’s corporate partners, including Bank of America, T. Rowe Price, Marriott Hotels and the Navy, accompanied food bank employees working at the event.
The spouses encouraged their family and friends to volunteer as well.
“It’s a good cause and I wanted to help,” said Lois Sigman, Cardin’s friend and first-time volunteer at the food bank.
Dina Sarbanes, wife of Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, said that, in addition to voting, volunteering for those in need is an important part of exercising citizenship. Since most Marylanders did not have big elections this year, the spouses wanted to mark Election Day in their own way, she added.
Kimberly Kratovil, wife of Frank Kratovil, D-Stevensville, said she would like this event to continue in subsequent years.
“The other spouses are fantastic ladies. It’s a great group of people to work with. I hope we can do more together in the future,” Kratovil said.
Volunteers packed canned goods such as green beans, corn, and cranberry sauce as well as mashed potatoes and corn muffin mixes into cardboard boxes. A 12-pound turkey, purchased with money raised by the annual Orioles Wives food drive in August, will accompany each box.