By ROB TRICCHINELLI, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON (November 21, 2007) - Maryland's food banks are coming up short this holiday season.
Food contributions to charitable organizations throughout Maryland are not meeting expectations, forcing many to scale back their Thanksgiving baskets and other donations.
"I think everybody's feeling a crunch," said Deborah Flateman, chief executive officer of the Maryland Food Bank, the largest such group in the state.
The Maryland Food Bank, one of more than 200 nationwide sponsored by America's Second Harvest, provides nearly 12 million pounds of food annually to 1,000 different community groups.
And though the year-to-date donations are up roughly 600,000 pounds from this time last year, Flateman said, the group only has about 2 weeks of inventory on hand and is distributing 3 percent more than last year.
"We're concerned about the amount of food we're able to attract," she said. "We're concerned about the donated product."
Flateman's group isn't alone.
The Western Maryland Food Bank in Cumberland holds a "Bags of Plenty" food drive each November. This year, the event ran from Nov. 11-21.
The campaign sent brown bags to area residents to fill and return.
The food bank also markets its program and has donation bins set up throughout Allegany County.
Despite this promotion, the campaign is about 1,000 pounds behind where it was last year, and 2,000 pounds behind its goal, according to Diana Loar, the food bank's director.
"We're hoping so," said Loar about whether that goal will ultimately be met. "We're trying to make that happen."
The First Wesleyan Church in Easton distributed 220 Thanksgiving food boxes Tuesday to Talbot County residents.
The boxes were expected to reach 1,000 people, said the Rev. Dustin Ives, the church's pastor.
Ives said there is an "abundant need" for the food boxes, which have "all the makings of a Thanksgiving meal."
"This year, for us, the need is consistent compared to what we've seen every year," Ives said. "It's pretty consistent. We're actually giving away a little less this year.
"We don't have quite the resources we've had in the past."
Avery Wilson, president of the Riverdale-based International Youth Fellowship, said his group had some struggles with its food drive.
IYF teamed up with local groups, which hold regular food drives, to help boost the overall donations during its campaign that ran from mid-October to mid-November. It wasn't enough.
"Last year we did better than this year," Wilson said. "A lot of people aren't doing food drives."
The group assembled about 100 food baskets last year, a number halved this year.
Food donations in general have dropped significantly over the past few years, and Flateman attributes it to changes in the way large food manufacturers and suppliers donate. Tighter quality control restrictions on manufacturers can mean fewer donations.
"Salvage product"—dented cans, jars with missing labels, etc.—is also a mainstay of food banking, but many manufacturers and grocers are "redirecting them to the secondary market," she said.
Discount grocers buy and resell salvage product, which can force food banks to compete with discount grocers.