Needy families pick up Thanksgiving meal ingredients

Rayford Dean stood in a long, winding line of people waiting for Thanksgiving groceries at St. John Baptist Church in Columbia. The 48-year-old works as a truck driver, he said, but he was recently divorced and needed help to provide a holiday meal for his three children, so he took an early lunchtime and waited Tuesday with dozens of others.

"It means I can actually do a Thanksgiving dinner," he said. "Without it, we'd just have spaghetti."

Hundreds of needy Howard County families got bags of Thanksgiving food and related products in two distribution programs Monday night and Tuesday in Columbia.

County Realtors joined with Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee, Food Lion, two County Council members' offices and other donors Monday night at a two-hour event for up to 200 families at the Hilton Homewood Suites Hotel in the Columbia Restaurant Park off Route 108.

Tuesday, Bita Dayhoff, director of the Community Action Council, the local anti-poverty agency, said 500 families who have needed help from the CAC food bank were invited to get supplies at the church on Tamar Drive in east Columbia. County Executive Ken Ulman and County Councilman Greg Fox helped out. This year, Dayhoff said, the emphasis is on healthful eating.

"We're having apples, oranges and strawberries," she said, along with recipes provided by Priority Partners, a Johns Hopkins Hospital health provider for low-income families. Volunteers from Atholton High School, Glenelg Country School and the church helped distribute the food, along with several elected officials.

Henry Bouchat, 77, said he and his wife Joan, 74, live on Social Security in a county-owned public housing apartment building in Ellicott City. He planned to take the food back to share with other residents, he said.

Buddy Ray, 50, said he has 24 years' experience laying tile and carpeting, but can't find work right now.

Another 50-year-old man dressed in casual business attire said he has advanced degrees and decades of experience in marketing, but has been out of steady work for three years. He declined to give his name.

The CAC giveaway cost $20,000, Dayhoff said. The money was provided by Wells Fargo Bank, Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., the Herb Block Foundation, St. John Baptist Church, the Wilde Lake Swim Team, Kittamaqundi Community, E-Structors Inc. and Howard County General Hospital. Those invited to partake were families who have visited the agency's food bank at least five times in the past year.

In addition to the fruit, recipients received vegetables, potatoes, corn, yams, rolls or muffins, cranberry sauce, stuffing, a pie and a turkey purchased from the Maryland Food Bank.

At the hotel, people invited by schools and social agencies streamed in to collect frozen turkeys, bread and rolls, stuffing, cranberries, sweet potatoes, pies and English muffins, along with detergent, aluminum foil and shampoo.

"We reached out to the local churches and schools," said Julia Mattes, a real estate agent who also works at the hotel, which provided its lobby for the event. McGahee posed for pictures after getting a hug from County Councilman Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat.

Pam Schmelyum, 30, of Elkridge, said she gets food stamps and could get by, but would not have had a real Thanksgiving dinner for her 6-year-old daughter, her parents and a grandmother who live with her without the donations at the hotel. "We didn't have a turkey for Thanksgiving," she said.

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