Hard times have hit home for growing numbers of laid-off workers andnewly poor families in Anne Arundel County.

Caught in the recession, more needy families are seeking emergency food and money each month from charities such as the North County Emergency Outreach Network, a non-profit coalition of 28 churches.

Leaders of the ecumenical organization reported a dramatic increase in the number of families lining up for food and help with rent orelectricity bills this winter. In the last two months, 374 families and 53 single people have requested help, a third more than the number seeking assistance during the same period last year.

"The need is like all over the place -- it's simply growing by leaps and bounds," said NEON founder Jackie Coyle, a member of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Glen Burnie.

Since mid-September, the number of families showing up at NEON's pantry on Fifth Avenue in Glen Burnie has climbed by 11 percent every two months. Coyle attributed most of the upswing to the rising unemployment rate and related economic woes.

"We're seeing more and more people who are totally new to the system," shesaid."They've just been laid off, their money is running out, and they don't know where to go."

Between January 1990 and January 1991,Anne Arundel's unemployment rate jumped from 2.9 percent to 4.7 percent. Though still below January's national rate of 7 percent and the state figure of 6.1 percent, the increase in unemployed is straining social service providers, NEON representatives said Tuesday night.

The rising demand for emergency food and assistance with rent and fuel bills is mirrored across the state, said Eileen Gillan Davidson, spokeswoman for the Maryland Food Committee. In a survey of Maryland soup kitchens last November, the non-profit group found a 26 percent increase over the preceding year in requests for emergency food, she said.

"That was before the recession really hit," Davidson pointed out. "Things have really gotten a lot worse in the last months."

Despite numerous layoffs due to the sagging economy, Anne Arundel still has a lower unemployment rate than its 1982 recession high of 7.4 percent. Economists at the University of Maryland predict the state's economy will reach a low this summer and start to rebound by the end of the year. Anne Arundel business leaders are hoping for recovery.

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