Bags of Plenty, the annual drive to stock soup kitchens around the state, is on track to reach its goal for food donations. But as of last weekend, the close of the campaign, it had fallen far short of its cash goal of $70,000.
Donations will continue to trickle in for several days, and Bill Ewing, executive director of the Maryland Food Bank, says the Franklintown Road center expects to surpass last year's total of 280,000 pounds of nonperishable food and might reach this year's goal of 300,000 pounds.
"We've got only 75,000 pounds in hand now, but most food is still in the pipeline," Ewing said. "Giant Food has 10 tractor loads still coming and 80 local companies are doing their own drives."
Ewing and other leaders in gathering and distributing emergency food in Maryland say it's never enough.
"Because more and more people need supplemental food, we're on a constant tightrope," Ewing said. "If we stop, we fall, we don't get enough. We just go from one food drive to another."
While food is coming in, $13,400 in checks have been donated, compared with $47,657 last year, according to the Maryland Food Committee section of the Center for Poverty Solutions.
"It's terrible. It's really been very, very slow." said Rob Hess, the center's president and chief executive officer. "Some more will trickle in, but we're way behind."
The disparity in food and cash donations continues a pattern of dips and jumps in donations in the 13-year history of Bags of Plenty. Campaign officials note a variety of reasons for the erratic pattern of giving.
Hess guessed that contributing factors to this year's lower cash donations include a good economy, mild weather and the efficient work of the state's 600 soup kitchens and pantries -- all of which make needs less visible to many potential donors.
While Our Daily Bread is a well-known soup kitchen, partly because its 900 clients are hard to ignore at its downtown location, Hess said most of the state's hungry visit smaller soup kitchens and are less of a public presence.
"But they exist," he said. "More than 30 percent of the folks using soup kitchens are the working poor. They used to need food the last few days of the month. Now they need it the last 10 days to two weeks."
In response to suggestions that people might prefer giving nonperishable food rather than cash because they're not sure how much of the cash is used for overhead, Hess noted that checks marked "food" or "Bags of Plenty" are "used 100 percent for food."
He added that three-quarters of general donations go to the center's programs designed to help people cope with or get out of poverty, while less than one-fourth goes to administrative and fund-raising costs.
Larry Adam Jr., founder of the Baltimore-based year-round Harvest for the Hungry programs, said his organization is finding that people are still generous.
Adam noted two Harvest projects he hopes will soon yield hauls of nonperishable goods: a Saturday morning party to fill a truck at Steelworkers Hall at Dundalk and Gusryan avenues, and a Dec. 13 concert of the U.S. Army Field Band and Soldiers Chorus at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.
Ewing and Adam agreed with Hess that the numbers of the hungry, especially the working poor, are growing and that feeding them is a constant challenge. The food bank and food committee say they feed 20,000 people a day in Maryland.
"I'm worried," said Hess.
"Last year, we were feeding 75,000 people every month in Maryland. This year, it's 84,000. In 1980, there were 60 soup kitchens and pantries in Maryland. Now there are 600."
Pub Date: 12/01/98