Damascus, Mount Airy food banks see increase in need -- Gazette.Net



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The Damascus HELP Inc. food pantry receives about 500 cans of corn each month.

But with the number of families in need increasing, two weeks ago, that supply was exhausted.

Doug Noble, food chairman of Damascus HELP Inc., said at that time food levels were at one of the lowest points in his 20 years working at the pantry.

“I have never seen the corn that bare,” he said.

Damascus HELP provides assistance to needy families in the upper portion of Montgomery County and adjacent areas. Noble said the pantry serves between 70 and 90 families each month — or about 250 people — which is more than double the average from two years ago. But, in recent months the amount of food from donations has not kept up with the demand.

“People think about hungry people around the holidays, but we have that number of families all year round,” he said. “The need is always there.”

Noble said the nonprofit gets about 2,400 pounds of food a month.

Without a donation from an area church and items from a food drive hosted by Jimmie Cone a few weeks ago, Noble said the pantry might not have been able to keep up with the demand this month.

“[Two weeks] ago we were pretty darn bare,” Noble said.

Noble attributes the increase in need to a still unstable economy and increased development in the Damascus area.

“It’s the development and people buying houses that they can’t afford. ... All those Clarksburg houses belong to us, and all those new houses [in Clarksburg will] belong to us, too,” he said. “A lot of people are living paycheck to paycheck.”

“Damascus is growing, there’s more and more people coming in [that need help],” said Elaine Dean, director of Mount Airy NET, a network of churches and civic organizations that provide support and services for those in need.

In addition to food, the Damascus nonprofit also gives financial assistance and provides transportation to those who need it. Last year, 65 percent of Damascus HELP’s expenses — which total $61,017 — went to paying utility bills for those in the area.

“We have a lot of people that are low income that live in the area, and other living expenses [in Montgomery County] are so high,” said Rita Noble, Damascus HELP general chairwoman.

Dean said right now the Mount Airy pantry has a good supply of food for the roughly 70 families they serve each month, but she isn’t sure how long that will last.

“Our needs are ongoing, but we never know what’s going to come in from one day to the next ... We just don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “We haven’t had a great need ... [but] there are consistently the same families coming in.”

At its peak, Dean said the Mount Airy pantry has served about 90 families in a month.

Currently, the Mount Airy nonprofit is seeking families who need assistance during the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Last year, the group was able to supply Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner to about 80 area families.

“I’m not sure what [the food supply is] going to be like when we get closer to Christmas,” Dean said.

In addition to the increased need, the number of members in the families has also gone up, Noble said. Between four and five families have been served daily by the Damascus pantry in recent months — some with as many as six members.

The pantry gives each family a three-day supply of emergency food provisions — about a shopping cart full — for a family of four. If the families have more than four members they receive double the amount of food. An average of 10 families with more than five people have been asking for assistance in recent months, Noble said.

“With six or seven people in each family, I can empty these shelves very fast,” he said. “[I think] some families are moving into each other’s homes because they can’t afford to live alone anymore.”

myoung@gazette.net