Food Pantry Donations Dwindle as Demand Increases

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Dec. 1, 2015)—Local food pantries that help feed needy families during the year as well as during peak holiday times say that their ability to do so is suffering while demand is only increasing.

Local pantries stock up their cupboards with food they buy on their own from various sources, including the Southern Maryland Food Bank, as well as by taking donations. But without the help of the food bank the proposition becomes much harder.

The problem is the food bank is open less often even than last year. Catholic Charities, the organization that runs, it is signaling the donations they get to feed other pantries are down as well.

"We've been blessed with enough resources that we can feel peoples' needs," said Bev Hargraves, who runs the pantry at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lexington Park. "But the Southern Maryland Food Bank has been closed more than last year.

"It's harder to keep things on demand and maintain the confidence that we can help people."

The local foodbank, located in Waldorf has long been a source of food that food pantries have been able to rely on but now that they have had to expand the amount of food they buy from other sources, it's becoming harder to fulfill their mission.

When they have food to give out to local pantries, the food bank weighs how much a pantry wants to take and charges them 18 cents per pound.

With that level of pricing available less and less, local pantries have to buy food from other local sources that are more expensive if donations don't answer the need.

It's difficult to get regular stocks from the food bank, too, Hargraves said, since it tends to be closed every other week.

The needs the church sees in Lexington Park has leveled off so far as hungry families are concerned, but that's just part of the story.

"It's leveled off but we definitely have more coming in these last four years," Hargraves said.

The situation in Leonardtown and the surrounding community is different and perhaps more needy, said Carol Barton, who heads up the soup kitchen and food pantry at the First Saints Community Church on Point Lookout Road.

"We've probably had the worst year ever because the need is so great," Barton said, adding that on Tuesdays and Thursdays when they serve lunch for free, they have a combined attendance of 160 people.

"But on some days its climbed to as high as 125 people," she said. "It's just getting harder for us to do."

The donations to their pantry are drying up as well, Barton said, and the food bank is less help than before.

But their shortage is on two fronts, not just one.

"We're desperate for volunteers," she said. "We need them almost as much as we need the food."

There are between five and six volunteers working the food pantry or the soup kitchen or both, she said, but she could easily use twice that many to help all the needy coming in.

"You're being the hands and feet of Christ, helping the poor," Barton said. "It's a blessing and a privilege."

She can tell that the need is growing by who is coming in seeking help.

"It's not the same people," Barton said. "I see a lot of new faces."

Often they are the middle-aged or senior citizens, and many of those are elderly women, Barton said.

Volunteers are needed sometimes just to make sure they can deliver food to people who drive up in their cars who are unable to walk.

Despite the sadness they see in peoples' needs, volunteers can keep going because they gain strength from filling those needs.

"You can volunteer for just 30 minutes if that's all you can do," Barton said. "It's a good feeling."

Brenda DiCarlo, who coordinates the food bank, said that the economic slump is at the heart of several symptoms as to why their ability to provide food to pantries is down.

There have been fewer food drives on the food bank's behalf, she said, and retail store donations are down as well.

"The economy hasn't provided the ability for us to bounce back the way we would like to," DiCarlo said. "Some of the families who had been donors are now recipients."

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