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Caring neighbors help refill food bank


When Jim and Sandy Huffman heard about the shortage of food at the Maryland Food Bank, they stuffed their kids into the cab of their big red flatbed truck and headed out to canvass as many Harford County neighborhoods as possible for donations of canned goods.

On Monday, the Street family delivered the fruit of its labors to the Harford Food Bank.Their total take weighed in at 1,800 pounds -- nearly a ton of food.

While their delivery was the largest single donation the food bank had received in a long time, it, sadly, will barely make a dent in the need of hungry Harford County families, said the Rev. J. William McNally, executive director of the Harford bank.

"Until we got that truckload Monday, we were completely out of canned food," said Mr. McNally. Unusually heavy demand among families hit by hard times has left food pantries around the state, including Harford County, hurting.

The Harford Food Bank, which provides low-cost food through churches and non-profit organizations that feed the hungry, relies heavily on regular deliveries from the Maryland Food Bank.

"We usually try to get a truckload a month from the Maryland Food Bank, and we haven't gotten any from them in two months," Mr. McNally said.

The Harford pantry also is supported by donations from Harford County businesses; Harvest for the Hungry, a statewide effort that sponsors food drives; and contributions from individual residents, like the Huffmans.

"We've been close to not having enough food ourselves, so we know what it's like," said Sandy Huffman.

She said the family plans to continue collecting for the food bank on weekends, picking up food on request from individuals or neighborhood groups that have organized their own campaigns.

The Harford Food Bank also distributes food six times a year to participants in Women Infants and Children (WIC), the federally sponsored nutrition program that promotes good nutrition for mothers and their young children. Mr. McNally fears the pantry won't be able to handle the demand at the five county sites.

"I'll need another 4,000 pounds just to get through [this] week," ,, he said.

The need for food is equally great at the county's Department of Social Services, where Neighbors in Need distributes free food to families and individuals in emergencies.

"Our donations are running about the same as they have in the past, but the demand has increased greatly," said Joy Rich, the program's director. She said many of those seeking help are people suddenly beset by financial troubles, who need to be tied over until their unemployment compensation or public assistance kicks in.

"We're not just dealing with food stamp people who can't stretch them to last anymore," Ms. Rich said. "We're now running up against people who have been let go at their jobs and have absolutely no money."

Neighbors in Need prepares bags of food to be delivered to homeless families temporarily put up in hotels by Social Services and gives free bags of food to individual families who come in with emergency needs. "We have a food closet open every day, but as fast as the food comes in it goes out," Ms. Rich said. She said an average of four or five families a day come into the office requesting food.

The pantry gets about 90 percent of its stock from a weekly food drive at St. Margaret's Catholic Church in Bel Air, which delivers about 30 bags of food a week to Social Services. The rest of the pantry's food comes from private donations -- either from individuals or from banks and other businesses that organize their own food drives.

"There are always a lot of food drives around Christmas time," Ms. Rich said. "But people need to realize we need food year-round."

At the Harford Food Bank, Mr. McNally said the food bank also has a walk-in freezer for storage.

"So even if a farmer has corn or tomatoes, we could keep it in [a] cold room" and share it with organizations that prepare meals on site, he said.

Where to donate food:

* Harford Food Bank, 2128 Old Edgewood Road, Edgewood, daily 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call 679-8186 to schedule large pickups.

* Neighbors in Need, Harford County Department of Social Services, 2 S. Bond St., Bel Air, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call ahead, please: 836-4778.

* The Harford County Board of Realtors will conduct a month-long food drive beginning Sept. 1 for the Harford Food Bank. Look for marked vans in various neighborhoods on weekends or drop off contributions daily at any real estate office in Harford County. Call 515-2000.

* Street residents Jim and Sandy Huffman will pick up contributions on weekends in any Harford County neighborhood and deliver to the Harford Food Bank. Call 836-1254.

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