Looking at her empty shelves Brenda DiCarlo, the program manager of the Southern Maryland Food Bank in Hughesville, talks about the food shortage that the food bank has been facing in recent months. DiCarlo said this week was the first time she has had to ration the food she distributes to the 37 non-profit organizations and food pantries that belong to the Southern Maryland Food Bank so that every organization could receive something. 
CS Photo by Rafael Crisostomo
Looking at her empty shelves Brenda DiCarlo, the program manager of the Southern Maryland Food Bank in Hughesville, talks about the food shortage that the food bank has been facing in recent months. DiCarlo said this week was the first time she has had to ration the food she distributes to the 37 non-profit organizations and food pantries that belong to the Southern Maryland Food Bank so that every organization could receive something. CS Photo by Rafael Crisostomo
The Calvert Churches Community Food Pantry mini-van was only a third full when it drove out of Southern Maryland Food Bank's parking lot last Monday.

"Usually you can't stuff an envelope in it," said Robby Robinson, a volunteer at Calvert Churches Community Food Pantry in Huntingtown that has seen a recent increase in the number of people they help.

Calvert Churches' food pantry is one of 37 food pantries that pick up food at the Southern Maryland Food Bank, a Catholic Charities secondary food distributor.

The Southern Maryland Food Bank, which distributes greatly discounted food to Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties, is feeling a "real crunch" in the amount of food they can provide because their distributor, The Maryland Food Bank, has no food to fill their own empty shelves, said Brenda DiCarlo, the program manager of the Southern Maryland Food Bank.

"My pantries don't have it, because my distributor doesn't have it, and my distributor doesn't have it because it's not coming in," she said. "It's a vicious cycle."

Since May, the Southern Maryland Food Bank has seen a steady decline in the amount of food kept in their Hughesville garage. The crisis reached a climax this week when DiCarlo, for the first time, limited the amount of food each pantry could take. DiCarlo typed out a sheet for the pantries detailing the amounts of food they could purchase for a greatly discounted price.

Looking at the sheet, Larry Reich, a SMILE Ecumenical Ministries food pantry volunteer, said, "This is all we can get this time, usually we are their best customers." Service Makes Individual Lives Exciting (SMILE) Ecumenical Ministries in Lusby served about 950 families and 2,900 individuals during the month of July, said Maarja Gandy, a volunteer at the pantry.

Usually, every Monday, the Southern Maryland Food Bank stocks about 10,000 pounds of food in their facility, and about 9,000 pounds leaves with the pantries. The food bank now carries about 2,000 pounds a week, and their shelves are nearly stripped bare after pantries come to pick it up, DiCarlo said.

"I try to keep the staples on hand, and I just don't have them," she said.

According to a May article in the Washington Post, rising global grain prices helped create the largest increase in monthly food costs in nearly 20 years.

"It's scary when a gallon of milk jumps from two to four dollars in a couple of months. The pantries and I are just trying to stay afloat and that is very, very hard," DiCarlo said.

Gloria Simmons, the community service director for Seventh Day Adventist Church in La Plata, said their pantry has been coming to the food bank for the past 15 years, and this is the first time the food has been rationed by the food bank. The restriction on food comes at a bad time, Simmons added.

"We are getting a lot more calls than we usually do ...People just don't have it (food), and their money is not going as far, so it's hard to keep stocked," she said.

Scott Lewis, the director of Catholic Charities Enterprises, D.C., said the dwindling amount of food in pantries is related to a strained economy.

"It's troubling because of the price of gas, medical costs are so high and I don't know where these people are going to turn to get food. This was their safety net. It's very, very troubling," he said.

DiCarlo said this is the worst she has seen the food bank's food supply since she started working there four years ago, and she predicts August will be the food bank's "worst month yet."

"If this project (the food bank) closed, half [of the pantries and non-profit organizations we serve] would be limited in what they can give out, and a quarter of that half would close," DiCarlo said.

Right now, the pantry needs tangible food products, instead of money to hand out to pantries, she said. Although some relief comes in the fall when schools open for classes again, it isn't soon enough, DiCarlo said. She suggested that church groups throw a food drive dinner, or students who need community service hours could organize a food drive to support the food bank.

Although some people think a couple bags is not enough to make a difference, "a couple bags is so much more than we have," DiCarlo said.

On Aug. 8, or "Crazy 8's Night," the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs baseball team in Waldorf will support the Southern Maryland Food Bank by giving discounted admission for anyone who brings a non-perishable or canned food item to the game at Regency Furniture Stadium. Anyone who brings 10 or more food items will be entered into a drawing to throw the first pitch of the game. The night is presented by Tony Doumit Orthodontics and during the game, The Blue Crabs will wear number 8 jerseys, which will be auctioned off at a silent auction during the game.

To find out how to help or to donate food, call Brenda DiCarlo at 301-274-0695.