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CEFM Network pushes through tough economic times

The voice mail message for the CEFM Network alerts callers that funds to help pay utility bills are unavailable.

"We're low on money. We've had some significant cutbacks in our county, state and federal funding," said the network's vice president, Catonsville resident Richard Hiteshew.

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But while the financial well dried up nearly a year ago, Hiteshew said the group can still accomplish its primary goal of feeding those in need.

"Our food contributions have held up," he said. "While it's not great, we're holding our own in terms of what we can do."

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Hiteshew credited Catonsville's affluence and Baltimore County's relatively low unemployment rate for helping to keep the pantry stocked.

Schools and other community groups often hold food drives for the ministry, even though the ministry had not made contact with them, he said.

If the ministry ran low on jelly, for example, Hiteshew said it's not uncommon for a donor to run out and buy a case.

Despite having enough to meet demand, Hiteshew said more donations of nonperishable foods is necessary.

John Monck, president of the network, which was founded in 1984 and formerly known as the Catonsville Emergency Food Ministry, said that while donations have stayed at the same amount, the types of products they receive has changed.

"One thing with the food donations that is easily noticeable is we're not getting the higher priced items as much," Monck said. "We used to get coffee and tea a lot. Over the past two months, we've probably had two bags for a coffee maker and one bag of instant."

Upstairs in network headquarters at 25 Bloomsbury Ave., a room dedicated to canned foods has sauces, vegetables and beans filling a half dozen bookcases.

An adjacent room, less crowded, holds a large quantity of dried goods such as pasta, rice and cereal.

Downstairs a refrigerator holds several large boxes filled with fresh corn, peppers and squash donated by Swamp Fox Farms in Pennsylvania, which attends the Wednesday farmer's market at the Bloomsbury Community Center.

Two refrigerators hold pounds of meat, but another refrigerator is empty.

"Food-wise, we're running out of mostly the dry goods," Monck said, specifically mentioning macaroni and cheese and pancake and cake mixes. "We're not putting in what we would usually pack for the people's allotments.

Monck said the network serves those who live in Baltimore County between Wilkens Avenue and Security Boulevard who make an appointment to visit.

He said the organization also has volunteers who will drive to donor homes to pick up the food.

The organization can expect a boost after Sept. 25, when Emmanuel Lutheran Church holds a bake sale at 2 p.m. at 929 Ingleside Ave. The admission price of donated canned goods allows people to listen to a concert and take part in other festivities.

All proceeds benefit CEFM Network.

In fiscal year 2010, Hiteshew said the ministry assisted 950 Baltimore County families who live between Wilkens Avenue and Security Boulevard.

The next year, the number nearly doubled to more than 1,800 families, Hiteshew said.

CEFM Network isn't the only food program feeling the pinch.

Maryland Food Bank, the large nonprofit with headquarters in nearby Halethorpe, provides food to distribution centers all over the state, including CEFM Network, except those Montgomery and Prince George's counties that are served by another food bank..

Deborah Flateman, chief executive officer of the Maryland Food Bank, said its food distribution has increased from 10 million pounds per year less than five years ago to 23 million pounds last year.

Getting food donations to meet that increase has proved challenging.

"The biggest trend that has affected us a great deal is that the traditional sources of donated food are drying up," Flateman said. "Now we have to find the funds to purchase this food.

"It's a harsh reality, and I think we are all struggling to handle it."

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