The Anne Arundel County Food Bank is counting on students to help feed the needy as they embark on the annual Harvest for the Hungry "Kids Helping Kids" campaign.
The goal is tons upon tons of food -- perhaps more than the 43,000 pounds brought in last year as 40 county schools joined in the three-week fall campaign. Statewide, a 213-school effort harvested 147,000 pounds of food to help needy families across Maryland.
"We come out of the summer months pretty well drained of food," said Bruce Michalec, director of the county food bank, "so [this] drive, as our first major drive, is important."
Michalec said 20 schools have signed up for the campaign, which begins tomorrow and runs until Nov. 5. He is counting on county elementary, middle and high schools to bring in at least 50,000 pounds of food this year for Anne Arundel's needy, Michalec added.
Last year, three county schools -- Annapolis High, Crofton Middle and South River High -- finished the campaign as the top achievers among the state's top 10 in the pounds of food collected.
Harvest for the Hungry, a volunteer-run organization that has gathered food for the state's hungry since 1987, started "Kids Helping Kids" in 1991 throughout Maryland public schools to provide students with an opportunity to learn about hunger and collect food for the less fortunate. It also gives them an opportunity to earn credit toward state-mandated service learning requirements.
The overall goal this year is to round up 250 schools and collect 250,000 pounds of food for distribution by the Maryland Food Bank and its counterparts to community food kitchens, food pantries and emergency shelters.
Maryland food banks need nonperishable food items in nonglass containers -- such as canned meats, fish, vegetables, fruits and soup, peanut butter, pasta, and dry cereals and grains.
Larry Adam Jr., founder of Baltimore-based Harvest for the Hungry, said 161 schools from around the state had signed on to the campaign by last week.
The need for food donations has increased recently, he said, demanding larger effort. The strong economy has helped food corporations improve technology and reduce excess production, in turn hurting food banks that once received their excess. Adam said corporate food donations have dropped 20 percent.
"And at the same time, the working poor still don't have as much food as they need to live satisfactorily," he said.
Michalec said 60 of the county's food pantries have reported increased demand for food, even during the typically slow summer months.
"By the time October and November roll around, our supplies have stretched so far that we are desperate," he said. "But these schools' efforts are really great," he said, and help the food bank stock up for the winter months.