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Carroll County Food Sunday receives state award, but seeks resources

Leaders of Carroll County Food Sunday were grateful to receive an award from State Comptroller Peter Franchot Wednesday, but once the ceremony was over, their thoughts went back to how they can continue to serve more families in need during a time when they are receiving fewer donations.

Franchot created the William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award this year to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of former governor and comptroller Schaefer, who had a lifelong career in public service. The award was also designed to emphasize that it isn't just big government spending programs or giant projects that can impact people's lives, said Joe Shapiro, director of communications for the comptroller's office, but is often the little things and interpersonal connections that really helped build a stronger community.

"He wanted to honor that legacy and also bring attention to some of these groups that are doing that and are working very hard in these tough times with often dwindling resources to really make a difference in their communities," Shapiro said.

One award will be given for each county and Baltimore City every year, Shapiro said. The award nominations, of which there were four or five for Carroll County, are reviewed and evaluated by a panel of friends and colleagues of Schaefer's, he said, and are rewarded by the comptroller during a personal visit.

Ed Leister, chairman of Carroll County Food Sunday, accepted the award on behalf of the board of directors, the food bank coordinator, their volunteers and clients. As the program wound down, Franchot asked if there was anything else he could do, Leister said, and he had a quick response ready.

"I said 'send money, we need money,'" he said with a smile.

Carroll County Food Sunday is certainly one of those organizations trying to do more with less resources, Leister said. In 2011, the nonprofit distributed 427,040 pounds of food, plus milk and veggie vouchers. But they also ended their year with a $38,577 deficit, he said, and a $30,581 deficit for the first two months of 2012.

In order to reduce some of their losses, the organization has made some cuts in the weekly food choices it distributes. Leister said they now distribute milk vouchers every other week - a significant savings since they have seen milk costs increase 56.4 percent in the past year - and have discontinued providing peanut butter, beef stew, tuna and orange juice.

Some of the staples that remain in the weekly food kits include eggs, meat, pork and beans, macaroni and cheese, and one can of vegetables and a can of fruit for every member in the household, said Dennis Fahey, the food bank coordinator. Fahey, who works part time hours for the nonprofit, is the only paid employee for the organization, which relies on more than 100 volunteers to provide more than 7,500 hours of service a year.

Carroll County Food Sunday relies on volunteers to sort and distribute the food, he said, but also to collect food and money for the nonprofit so that they have food to distribute to their clients.

"This is a very generous county, but at this point, I picked up 100 new clients in January and February," Leister said. "I have people coming in now that a year ago, they were funding us."

Carroll County Food Sunday had 578 new family clients in 2011, according to the organization's records, with a total of 22,543 requests for food, which translates into 61,460 portions served.

The organization distributes an average of 8,000 pounds of food per week, Fahey said, much of what comes from direct food donations and the rest is purchased with funds donated to nonprofit. The Boy Scouts just donated 15,000 pounds of food from a collection drive, he said, but that's about half of what they have been able to collect in previous years.

Leister said the organization appreciates all of the groups that make an effort to collect donations for Carroll County Food Sunday, and the board is hoping to find some more groups to partner with for even more fundraisers.

"We're not going to go out of business, we're going to be here for the folks," Leister said. "But at this point, we can do more if we had the money."

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