When a small band of people suggested about five years ago that churches pool their resources to start the North County Emergency Outreach Network, they knew the need was there.
What is both a joy and a disappointment to NCEON's volunteers is that they were right.
NCEON is marking its fourth anniversary with a Harvest of Thanks at 2 p.m. Sunday. The worship service will begin at 2 p.m. at Holy Trinity Church and will be followed by refreshments.
In the four years that NCEON has offered groceries and money, it has handed out 15,860 bags of food, paid $342,823 in emergency bills and helped 10,188 people.
But that hasn't been enough. "No matter how much you have, the need is greater," said Melba Reeder, president of the Glen Burnie-based organization.
In its first year, the organization served 1,814 clients, providing $89,749 and 2,631 bags of food. In the year that ended in August, it served 2,674 people, giving them $96,270 and 5,001 bags of groceries.
There have been days when the cupboards have been bare and the bank account depleted, even as people kept knocking on the door of NCEON's white building. The building, donated by the Community Church of God and refurbished with the help of several area organizations, is open three days a week to the needy.
Inside are shelves lined with tinned goods and huge cartons of breakfast cereal. Refrigerators and stacks to hold bread sit to one side.
By one of the desks hangs a reminder of why the organization exists. It is a letter from a woman who lost her job and feared she and her grandchild would soon be homeless.
"Through the money donated to me, I was able to buy time. This time enabled me to find two jobs, which will ease my financial burden," the letter reads.
"It's unbelievable, the need that is in our county," said Grace Sutherland, who coordinates about three dozen volunteers who pitch in at NCEON's building.
But hundreds of people in the community work behind the scenes -- including some recipients of NCEON's efforts who want to return the favor. Among them are a formerly homeless man pulling weeds on the property and a needy woman who represents the clients' point of view on the organization's board.
Over the last four years, at least 45 businesses and organizations have contributed in many ways, including A&M; Printing Co. of Glen Burnie, which printed NCEON's newsletter.
"We really rely on other organizations," said Nancy Kendall, in charge of fund raising.
Just as the warped wood shelves in the pantry were down to their last cans of corn and beans last month, the Sons of the Severn barbershop singers did a show for NCEON's benefit, bringing along eight guest groups. About 750 people turned out bearing the price of admission -- money or canned food, said Orville P. Henschel.
That restocked the shelves, but by this week, at least half of that was gone.
This is the second year the singers have held a benefit for NCEON. Mr. Henschel learned of the organization through the Church of the Good Shepherd in Point Pleasant and went there to check it out himself.
"What impressed me when I was over there is that they are all volunteers, no one is getting paid. The food goes directly to the people who need it and so does the money," he said.