Food pantries fight to meet demand
Organizers point to economic downturn as reason for spike
Susan Whitney/The Gazette
With donations at their maximum during the holidays, food pantries often struggle with supplies up until Thanksgiving. And with the current economic downturn, more customers in Laurel are receiving assistance than in years past, compounding an existing problem.
Of the three food pantries in Laurel — Laurel Advocacy Referral Services, Elizabeth House and Oaklands Presbyterian Church — and Savage's First Baptist Church of Savage, each attests to an increased demand, yet minimal supply.
At first glance, the shelves and pallets appear well-stocked. But pantry volunteers and workers say the food can go quickly.
"People who are struggling are starting to use the food pantry because they're using all their money for utilities and gas," Nancy Graham, executive director of Laurel Advocacy Referral Services, said. "It's a reflection of what's happening in the economy."
Judi Kuntz, Elizabeth House pantry coordinator, agreed.
"We have a lot of people that we see every month, but we're getting lots of new people, including lots of senior citizens," she said.
At LARS, in August 2007, 324 bags were given to 164 people. This August, 427 bags of food were given to 166 people. In September 2007, 244 bags were provided for 125 people, a number that jumped to 453 bags of food for 191 people this year.
Graham said that each single person gets two bags. For each additional member of the family, one bag is added.
Although the final numbers for October 2008 haven't been calculated yet, Graham said she expects last year's October figure — 369 bags for 117 people — to increase also.
"We're probably up about at least 15 percent from what we saw last year," she said.
The pantry at Oaklands Presbyterian had 32 families this August, up from 16 in August last year. Forty-one families came in September, compared to 25 in 2007. As of Oct. 24, 20 families had been to the pantry, compared to last October's 27 total.
First Baptist Church of Savage is also seeing an increase in people.
Jackie Waller, pantry director, said when the pantry started last year, its small closet space only fed a few families. Now, with its own room, the pantry can accept more donations, which have led to more patrons.
"I imagine we feed about 25 families a month," Waller said. She added the number should rise.
But some people aren't waiting until the holidays to donate.
Nathan Bell, 19, a sophomore at Howard County Community College-Columbia, donated five bags of food to LARS as part of the service project aspect of the college's Rouse Scholars Program.
He said that he hopes to be back "whenever I get enough [food] to fill up my trunk again," he said.