Feeding the hungry is now as easy as mailing a letter

Mail carriers to pick up nonperishables

Friday, March 6, 2009

Feed the hungry

To learn more about the Harvest for the Hungry spring food drive scheduled for March 7-14 in cooperation with the U.S. Postal Service, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, local Safeway stores and Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage offices, call the Maryland Food Bank at 410-737-8282. Participate in the organization's virtual food drive at www.fillemptyshelves.kintera.org. Walmart stores in La Plata, Waldorf, Prince Frederick, California and Dunkirk are holding a food drive to benefit the Southern Maryland Food Bank from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. March 6, 7 and 8. Nonperishable food items can be dropped off at any of the five participating stores. The Southern Maryland Food Bank in Hughesville is seeking individuals, churches and organizations that are willing to hold food drives to help replenish the food bank. Call Brenda DiCarlo, food bank manager, at 301-274-0695.

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There is an easy way for people who want to help their neighbors who are struggling to make ends meet and feed their families — simply place a bag of nonperishable food next to the mailbox during the next couple of weeks.

The U.S. Postal Service is teaming up with the Maryland Food Bank and Harvest for the Hungry to run a food drive from March 7 through 14 that asks people to place nonperishable food items next to their mailbox for the letter carriers to pick up. Food can also be dropped off at all post offices in Charles County and at local Safeway stores and Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage offices, said Shanna Yetman, spokeswoman for the Maryland Food Bank in Baltimore.

The effort is being spearheaded by Harvest for the Hungry, a volunteer effort by various corporations and organizations to raise food and funds for the Maryland Food Bank, Yetman said. The organization, established in 1986 by Larry V. Adams Jr., has collected more than 28 million pounds of food for hungry families in Maryland since its inception.

The 23rd annual Harvest for the Hungry spring food drive will help stock the Maryland Food Bank's shelves, which in turn provide food to more than 900 soup kitchens, food pantries and shelters across the state, Yetman said.

Food that is collected locally stays in the community, Yetman said, adding that food donated during the drive will go to the Southern Maryland Food Bank in Hughesville.

The food bank is struggling to keep nonperishable items on the shelves because the drastic downturn in the economy is forcing more and more people to seek help in feeding their families, said Brenda DiCarlo, manager of the local food bank.

"We're not doing too well," she said. "We're still struggling because we're seeing an increasing need for food in Southern Maryland. Every week we struggle to find food so that we can open our doors on Monday."

DiCarlo said that she needs to have 18 pallets of food on hand to distribute to 35 area food pantries, group homes and shelters. On Tuesday, she said there were only five pallets of food in the warehouse at the intersection of Route 231 and Old Leonardtown Road.

DiCarlo said that in the past the Harvest for the Hungry food drive has netted less than satisfactory results.

"They hold it every year," she said. "It hasn't been very popular in Southern Maryland, but I'm hoping that this year that will change."

Yetman said that the Maryland Food Bank is trying to spread the word about the food drive so that people will participate in it.

"The real success of this food drive relies on publicity," she said. "It's a matter of getting the word out. If people don't know about it they won't participate."

The Southern Maryland Food Bank received what appeared to be a windfall of money during the holiday season. Dominion, the owner of the Dominion Cove Point liquefied natural gas facility in Lusby, donated $20,000 to the food bank.

The problem, DiCarlo said, is that the money can only be used to purchase food at the Maryland Food Bank and that organization is seeing a 50 percent rise in families who need donated food items.

"It's painful to talk about," she said. "Unfortunately, we can only use the money to purchase food from the Maryland Food Bank and they're down on food, too."

"The money was put in the Southern Maryland Food Bank's account," Yetman said. "When Brenda shops at the Maryland Food Bank she can use the money. She can only get food from the Maryland Food Bank with the money."

DiCarlo said that she is grateful for Dominion's donation.

"Dominion is fantastic," she said. "That was so generous of them. Sometimes, the Southern Maryland Food Bank is overlooked so it's great that Dominion recognized us."

Yetman said that the food collected during the Harvest for the Hungry food drive will be available for local food banks to pick up March 15. All of the food donated in Southern Maryland will benefit the Southern Maryland Food Bank, she said.

"That's the glorious part of it," she said. "With this campaign if the food is raised in Southern Maryland it stays in Southern Maryland."

Walmart stores in the area are also holding a food drive from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 6, 7 and 8, DiCarlo said.

"Walmart has been great partners with us," she said. "I hope that we generate a fair amount of food during this food drive."

The Charles County government has also contributed to the food bank, DiCarlo said, adding that two recent county food drives netted 1,200 pounds of food for local needy families. The effort was spearheaded by George Clarkson, press secretary for the Charles County commissioners.

"George Clarkson has just been such a great spirit," she said. "He's just an incredible, incredible man."

As the economy continues to worsen, more people are going to seek help from local food pantries to supply meals for their families, DiCarlo said.

"I really can't depend on the public to keep the food bank stocked because a large section of the public needs our services now," she said. "We're looking to local businesses and the county government to help us because we can't depend on the general public. They're the ones who need us."

Local Safeway stores have been very generous in helping to keep the food bank stocked, DiCarlo said.

"It's our community," said Jim Ross, manager of the Safeway in La Plata. "This is our friends and family and we need to take care of them. We need to take care of our own."