With the largesse of the holiday season and its pleasant prospect of eating too much upon most of us, it is easy to forget that hunger remains an everyday reality for some in our midst.
Faced with the lingering impact of the Great Recession that has provided all too many recruits for the army of chronic poor, Frederick County’s nine food banks are struggling to provide those in need with not only some welcome holiday fare, but with enough food just to get some of them to the next paycheck — if there is a paycheck.
The list of the needy is disturbingly long, including people who have lost their jobs, have been financially decimated by a catastrophic illness, or senior citizens who can no longer work. These are not easily dismissed abstractions on another continent; these are your neighbors. It could be you, it could be anyone.
And the numbers have worsened in recent years.
Some 1,400 families received meals from the county’s food banks in 2010, according to the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs, a group of county churches that helps the needy. That number has spiked to 1,500 this year, about double the number from five years ago, according to the Rev. Brian J. Scott, executive director of the coalition.
Despite the steadily rising need, food donations from the more fortunate among us have not kept pace, a likely victim as well of the down economy’s cold, relentless grip.
While some area food banks have maintained their needed levels, others like the Frederick Food Bank have not, where donations are down 30 percent from last year, Director Sarah McAleavy said last week.
The Frederick Food Bank, in the Frederick Community Action Agency, serves about 650 people a month but has only collected 25,000 pounds of food, said McAleavy, who noted that they might have to purchase food to get through the year.
“This is our Christmas,” she said. “In a perfect world this should get us through the winter. There are so many people in need because of the economy.”
In the face of such woes, it was good to see Boy and Cub Scout troops in Middletown and other areas out on recent weekends, their young members jumping out of sport utility vehicles driven by patient troop leaders to methodically attach plastic bags to every mailbox and doorknob — and anything else that wasn’t moving. A weekend later, they returned to dutifully pick up the bags, hopefully filled with canned goods to help feed the hungry.
Gladly, the Scouting for Food drive was a success, especially in the Middletown area, where 10,085 cans of food were delivered, 2,000 more than last year, according to Phyllis Thompson of the Middletown Food Bank.
It should warm the area’s collective heart to see much of that food doled out across the area in recent weeks, including the 11,000 Thanksgiving dinners scheduled to be offered to needy families lined up at Harry Grove Stadium on Tuesday.
But the area’s food banks need donations every day, not just during the holiday season, which serves only to heighten the pangs of hunger — and perhaps the guilt among the rest of us about not doing as much as we could to help.
So as you stuff down that last chunk of turkey drumstick with a hearty dollop of dressing and gravy, it might be instructive to recall something Mother Teresa — whose heart was always in the right place — said: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.”
Surely, most of us can do that.