Holiday Season Puts Strain on Families in Need

By Colleen Wilson

ANNAPOLIS (Dec. 18, 2013)—Maryland food banks tend to see an influx of families during the holiday season, but this year local pantries are seeing more people in need because of cuts to food stamps. Now, food pantries are counting on donations from the community to keep supplies stocked.

“We always see an increase [in need] around the holiday,” said Kate Sam, spokeswoman for the Maryland Food Bank, based in Baltimore. “This occurs all year-round year-round, and it’s grown a lot over the last five years since the recession. Our distribution has more than tripled since 2007.”

Sam said that this year has been especially tough for families, which was evident, she said, by the numbers.

“Our distribution this past July was what it would have been in November just a few years ago,” she said. “This year the demand is growing even more, which we think definitely has to do with the recent [reduction in] SNAP benefits.”

SNAP, which stands for the Supplemental Nutritional Aid Program, is funded by the government and provides low-income families with food stamps and nutrition education.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, created in 2009 to increase funds for SNAP benefits in response to the recession, expired Nov. 1. In addition, Congress is currently debating the House of Representatives’ version of the farm bill that would cut SNAP’s program funds by $40 billion.

“We’re looking at it as a edge of a cliff right now,” said Sam. “The Maryland Food Bank and every food bank across the nation would need to double the amount of food just to maintain the amount of hunger. There’s 50 million people that are food insecure right now.”

Cathy Bird, executive director of Annapolis-based Food Link, said the holiday season is more about maintaining tradition rather than about gifts for struggling families.

“They [families] don’t have the means to provide a Thanksgiving dinner by taking away from their food budget through the normal year,” Bird said. “With Christmas, it’s the same thing. If you can’t afford a holiday meal, you sure as heck can’t afford gifts.”

While there is increased need in the winter season, there is also increased giving.

“We have a lot more people that are willing to help around the holidays,” Bird said.

Going forward, Sam said they are reaching out to more people and garnering support.

“Our focus right now is continuing to strengthen what we’re doing and getting out to the public that this is an issue the public needs to be aware of,” Sam said. “Maryland food banks can’t do it alone; we can’t end hunger alone. It’s just going to take a lot of partners at the table.”

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