A study of hunger in Maryland shows that the number of people relying on soup kitchens and food banks has increased by about 10 percent since 2001, with about 50,000 residents receiving some form of emergency hunger-relief services each week.
"The news is that we haven't done anything to help these people," said Bill Ewing, executive director of the Maryland Food Bank, which participated in a national survey of hunger by America's Second Harvest, a network of food banks and organizations that serves hungry people across the country. "They are still out there, and they are still hungry."
Maryland's hunger figures roughly mirror national ones, according to the survey, which noted an 8 percent increase in the number of low-income people receiving food from outreach centers, from about 23 million in 2001 to about 25 million last year.
America's Second Harvest interviewed thousands of clients, including about 500 in Maryland, as part of its Hunger in America 2006 report, which was released yesterday. The group does a survey every four years.
In Maryland, 48 percent of households that receive free food have at least one employed adult, according to the study. Many of those have monthly incomes that fall below the federal poverty level of $1,613 a month for a family of four.
The survey also found that 48 percent of food bank clients in Maryland have completed high school, and 20 percent have some form of higher education. About 46 percent said they must choose between paying for food and covering their mortgage payment or heating bill.
As for demographics, the survey found that 25 percent of those seeking free food are white, 42 percent are black and 30 percent are Hispanic. About 53 percent of adults served are women.
For Ewing, head of the Maryland Food Bank that distributes about 12 million pounds of food annually, the results of the survey are disturbing because they show that the root causes of hunger -- poor education, underemployment and mental illness, to name a few -- are not being addressed by federal, state or local government agencies.
"I haven't seen any great, startling breakthroughs in terms of solving the problem of hunger," he said. "We're just a Band-Aid."