Measured in dollars and cents, Anne Arundel has weathered the recession relatively unscathed compared to its deficit-ridden neighbors.
But the $7.5-million budget surplus projected for the county this year doesn't help the families who have been caught up in the turn of the economic cycle.
"We deal mostly with people who fall between the cracks and don'tknow how to get services," Mary-Anne Byrne, resource coordinator at the Salvation Army, said Thursday. "They can't get jobs because they have minimal skills."
The stock market and federal index of economic indicators hinted at a recovery last week.
But some social service providers fear that many of the thousands of county residents whoshowed up for Operation Food Sharing at 28 churches and government distribution sites Thursday will be left behind when the economy recovers .
Sitting in her Glen Burnie office while dozens of people waited patiently for bags of free groceries, Byrne described societal failures that have created whole new classes of the poor and homeless.
"I keep finding more and more and more breadwinners who have lost their jobs," she said. "They can't find day care. Sometimes it's a medical problem. With a lot of young people, the gap in the education system is catching up with them."
Entry-level jobs that were once filled by unskilled workers are now out of reach for many people who Byrne said leave school unable to read, let alone able to master computerized cash registers and machines.
And she said some senior citizen couples have found that their retirement, Social Security and Medicaid are inadequate, so "They take turns buying their medicine because they can't afford it."
Operation Food Sharing -- the quarterly surplus distribution administered by the Anne Arundel County Food Bank -- brings an extra measure of relief to about 4,000 households.
But other statistics form a paint-by-numbers portrait of poverty mademore vivid by the recession.
After a steady decline from 1983 to 1988, county caseloads for the four largest welfare programs have swelled by 29.4 percent to 10,977 through February. Counting family members, that's more than 30,000 county residents.
The county's socialservices budget contribution also grew throughout the past eight years. But the programs rely on state funding, which lagged behind the shift in caseloads and has been frozen because of Maryland's deficit.
George Carr, the county's deputy director for social services, said the recovery won't necessarily mean a reduction in welfare rolls because the state might decide to expand its services. "When the economy gets worse, the welfare rolls increase, and when the economy gets better, welfare rolls increase," he said. "One of the reasons is that when the economy is in good shape, the government extends a certain amount of largess to its citizens."
Last week, Food Bank director Bruce Michalec had more than $38,000 worth of food to give away.
The apple sauce, vegetarian baked beans, butter, corn meal, flour, honey, pears, peanut butter, canned pork, raisins and rice -- a bag or more depending on the size of the family -- lasts a week, maybe two.
"Food is food if you're hungry," Michalec said. "That's why we have this."
Operation Food Sharing has other vagaries, dependent as it is on surplus conditions in the state's agricultural markets.
Three or four years ago, more than 7,000 people lined up for blocks of cheese.
But dairy farmers nationwide eventually cut production, prices went up jumped and the free cheese disappeared.
"That's the American way," Michalec said.
WELFARE CASES SKYROCKETING
Anne ArundelCounty's welfare services caseload has increased 29.4 percent over the past four years.
AFDC ... GPA ... FS ... MA ... Total
Feb. 1991 ... 3,253 ... 741 ... 2,301 ... 4,682 ... 10,977
Feb. 1990 ...2,955 ... 620 ... 2,028 ... 4,007 ... 9,610
Feb. 1989 ... 2,669 ... 559 ... 1,935 ... 3,292 ... 8,455
Feb. 1988 ... 2,638 ... 557 ... 1,895 ... 3,393 ... 8,483
AFDC is Aid for Families with Dependent Children
GPA is General Public Assistance
FS is food stamps
MA is medical assistance
Source: Anne Arundel County Departmentof Social Services