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Families' food pantry and shelter use is up More seniors also in need, says service provider study


Maryland's food pantries, homeless shelters and soup kitchens experienced a 23 percent increase in visits from families with children in the past year according to a survey to be released today by the Center for Poverty Solutions.

The study, based on 1998 information mailed in by the staffs of 191 emergency providers throughout the state, also found that 26 percent more senior citizens used food pantries for donations.

It concludes that rates of unemployment combined with fewer people receiving public assistance has had a "serious impact" upon food pantry and soup kitchen use.

"Too many Maryland families are forced to make difficult choices when they are unable to pay for rent, transportation to work and food," said the center's president, Robert V. Hess.

The center, in the 2500 block of N. Charles St. in Charles Village is a merger of the Maryland Food Committee and Action for the Homeless, which joined forces this year.

"We have been lulled into the belief that because the economy is booming that everybody has been affected for the better," said Ann Ciekot, the center's spokeswoman. "There are people at the end of the income scale who have not benefitted from the economic upturn."

The city reported a drop in the number of people receiving money in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children category. The figure fell nearly 16 percent, from 93,818 in 1996 to 79,121 in 1997.

Results of the Center for Poverty Solutions survey indicated that some families, dropped from the welfare rolls because of new federal mandates, relied upon emergency food service providers feed their children.

According to the report, which uses 1997 unemployment figures, 29,682 unemployed Baltimore residents were reported in a total population of 657,256, creating a city unemployment rate of 9.3 percent. In 1996, the city unemployment rate was 8.2 percent.

The 1997 unemployment rate for Baltimore County was listed at 5.2 percent (same as 1996); Anne Arundel, 3.9 percent (down from 4 percent in 1996); Harford County, 5.1 percent (5.2 in 1996); Howard County, 3 percent (same as 1996).

The state's lowest level of unemployment was 2.6 percent in Montgomery County (2.7 in 1996); the highest was Garrett County's 13.1 percent (10.5 in 1996).

Food-stamp usage in Baltimore City was down. In 1996, 146,892 people used food stamps; in 1997, the figure dropped slightly more than 10 percent to 132,197.

In Baltimore County, however, food-stamp usage climbed more than 9 percent from 29,480 in 1996 to 32,222 in 1997.

"I've seen a lot of panic among women who seek our help," said Sister Maureen Beitman, a member of the Daughters of Charity, who works at the Beans and Bread soup kitchen at Bond and Bank streets in Southeast Baltimore.

"There's confusion," she said. "People want to work, yet they are facing evictions, and they are very worried about being cut off financially."

Pub Date: 12/15/98

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