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Donations to Md. food banks falling short of needs

Maryland's food banks are coming up short this holiday season.

Food contributions to charitable organizations throughout Maryland are not meeting expectations, forcing many to scale back Thanksgiving baskets and other donations.

"I think everybody's feeling a crunch," said Deborah Flateman, chief executive officer of the Maryland Food Bank, the largest such group in the state.

The Maryland Food Bank, one of more than 200 nationwide sponsored by America's Second Harvest, provides nearly 12 million pounds of food annually to 1,000 community groups.

And though donations are up about 600,000 pounds from this time last year, Flateman said, the Maryland Food Bank has only about two weeks' inventory on hand and is distributing 3 percent more than last year.

"We're concerned about the amount of food we're able to attract," she said. "We're concerned about the donated product."

Flateman's group is not alone.

The Western Maryland Food Bank in Cumberland conducts a "Bags of Plenty" food drive each November, sending brown bags to area residents to fill and return. The event ended yesterday.

The food bank markets its program and has donation bins set up throughout Allegany County. The campaign is about 1,000 pounds behind last year's, and 2,000 pounds from its goal, according to Diana Loar, the food bank's director.

Loar said she hopes the goal will be met. "We're trying to make that happen," she said.

First Wesleyan Church in Easton distributed 220 Thanksgiving food boxes Tuesday to Talbot County residents. The boxes were expected to reach 1,000 people, said the Rev. Dustin Ives.

The church's pastor said there is "abundant need" for the food boxes, which have "all the makings of a Thanksgiving meal."

"This year, for us, the need is consistent compared to what we've seen every year," Ives said. "We're actually giving away a little less this year. We don't have quite the resources we've had in the past."

Avery Wilson, president of the Riverdale-based International Youth Fellowship, said his group had experienced some struggles with its food drive.

International Youth Fellowship teamed up with local groups that regularly conduct food drives to help boost donations during its campaign that ran from mid-October to mid-November. That wasn't enough.

"Last year we did better than this year," Wilson said. "A lot of people aren't doing food drives."

The group assembled about 50 food baskets this year, down from 100 last year, Wilson said.

Food donations in general have dropped significantly over the past few years, and Flateman attributes at least part of the decrease to changes in the way large manufacturers and suppliers donate. Tighter quality control restrictions on food manufacturers can mean fewer donations, she said.

"Salvage product," which includes dented cans and jars with missing labels, is a mainstay of food banking, but many manufacturers and grocers are redirecting it to the secondary market, Flateman said.

Discount grocers buy and resell salvage product, which can force food banks to compete with discount grocers, she said.

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