COLLEGE PARK – After the holidays, the number of volunteers and donations at the Maryland Food Bank is expected to decline. The needs of Maryland’s hungry won’t.
“Hunger’s a year-round issue,” said Joanna Warner, communications director for the Maryland Food Bank, a non-profit hunger relief organization with centers in Salisbury, Hagerstown and Baltimore.
The need for food aid is clearly rising in Maryland, and not just at the holidays, said Tom Blackburn, 61, pantry director at Community Assistance Network Inc., a Baltimore County-based nonprofit that provides support to poor neighborhoods.
The average number of families seeking food aid at the Community Assistance Network pantry in the city of Baltimore has doubled in the last two years, he said.
The pantry serves between 80 and 150 families a day depending on the time of year, he said. In early November, the pantry served 200 families in one day, a record high number, he said.
“It’s tough out there,” he said, adding that besides his job at the food pantry, he works at a cleaning service and as a limousine driver just to make ends meet. “I think a lot of folks are unaware that there’s a lot of people out there struggling to eat.”
Last year, the Maryland Food Bank distributed over 44 million pounds of food, the equivalent of about 37 million meals, Warner said.
The number of Marylanders participating in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP or food stamps, increased by 118 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to the Food Research and Action Center, a national nonprofit anti-hunger group (www.frac.org).
About 13 percent of Maryland’s population is food insecure, according to Feeding America, a national hunger-relief organization. But 41 percent of food-insecure people aren’t eligible for SNAP benefits because they make too much money to qualify, but not enough to afford sufficient food for themselves and their families, according to Feeding America (www.feedingamerica.org).
“People making minimum wage, they’re still living in poverty,” said Michael Freeman, 55, a food transporter for the Brooklyn Church of God pantry in Baltimore. “The need every year gets bigger and bigger.”
In January and February, the Maryland Food Bank will need help categorizing the supplies left over from the influx of holiday donations, but after Christmas, volunteers are harder to find, said Meg Kimmel, vice president of marketing for the Maryland Food Bank.
“Once the holidays are over, we have a real drop off in the number of volunteers, and the need stays the same,” she said.
The Maryland Food Bank requires an average of 260 volunteers each week to box and sort donated supplies, and shifts can be booked in advance, Kimmel said. All of the shifts from October through December were already filled in July, she said, but volunteers for the later winter months remain sparse.
People are in the giving spirit around the holidays, and are especially inclined to help those suffering from food insecurity, Warner said.
“There’s an emotional toll because a lot of people are celebrating around a table with family and friends and there’s a lot of empathy for people who can’t,” she said.
Last Tuesday, the Maryland Food Bank raised more than $10,000 through the statewide Giving Tuesday campaign run by Maryland Nonprofits, an organization supporting the state’s nonprofit sector, she said. This money will help provide around 20,000 meals, she said.
But it’s important to remember that the number of hungry people won’t decline after the holidays, and the food bank can always use extra help, Kimmel said.
Regulars, like Maria Engelbrecht, 51, of Columbia, who volunteers weekly at the Maryland Food Bank, help keep the work running smoothly all year.
“I feel like this is useful, like it’s going to help somebody,” she said. “People are hungry all year round. There’s always a need.”
To donate to the Maryland Food Bank, visit their website, https://www.mdfoodbank.org/.