Food banks, soup kitchens hurt by Hurricane Irene

Soup Kitchen

The debris is gone and the power has been restored, but many Marylanders are still hurting from the effects of Hurricane Irene.

Residents and aid organizations statewide lost power from the storm, and had valuable perishable food spoil as a result. Now, food banks and state organizations are scrambling to provide food for families who are struggling after the storm.

The Maryland Food Bank felt the wrath of Hurricane Irene when the food storage building lost power on Sunday, and didn’t regain it until Wednesday. After the power loss, Food Bank employees rushed to move food from the refrigerators and freezers to refrigerated trucks.

“Our warehouse did as much as they could,” said Kate Sam, communications manager for the Maryland Food Bank. “We did everything we could to save as much as we could.”

Unfortunately, without a generator to power the freezers, the Food Bank wasn’t able to save everything. Food that was supposed to feed Maryland families spoiled. For the next four days, the Food Bank was unable to accept donations.

The Food Bank is trying to obtain a generator so a future power outage can be avoided.

The Maryland Food Bank is responsible for obtaining, storing and distributing food to 600 shelters and soup kitchens throughout Maryland. Problems faced by the Food Bank have a ripple effect on those shelters and soup kitchens.

“We’re the safety net beneath the safety net. Without us, other agencies wouldn’t be able to serve those in need,” Sam said.

Several organizations in Maryland echoed the problems and concerns voiced by the Maryland Food Bank.

“There was a considerable increase in need after the hurricane,” said Rev. Joseph W. Trigg, Rector of Christ’s Church, Port Tobacco Parish in La Plata.

The church operates a food pantry every Friday, and usually serves 70-100 people each week. Although specific numbers weren’t available, Trigg said the food bank had significantly more people requesting food on the first day the pantry was open after the storm.

Power outages also spoiled food in homes across the state. The Maryland Department of Human Services reported that approximately 900 people have applied for additional food stamps to replace food they lost during Hurricane Irene.

Additional food stamps are available immediately for families who lost food from the lack of power. However, not all who applied for food stamps are eligible.

Food stamp reimbursements are only available to people who are currently enrolled in the food stamp program, lost power during Hurricane Irene and had food spoil due to lack of refrigeration. Residents requesting food stamp reimbursement must fill out a form at their local department of social services, and they must sign an affidavit when they request the amount of food stamps to be reimbursed.

Some local food providers felt the impact of the storm immediately. The Light House shelter in Annapolis serves individuals and families, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. There are rooms for the homeless, food for the hungry, and job training for the unemployed.

Although the homeless shelter is run by staff, the food program is run almost entirely by volunteers. Each day, volunteers provide hundreds of hot meals, bagged lunches and bags of groceries to people in need.

When the hurricane struck, dozens of volunteers who were scheduled to make or serve food were unable to come into the Light House. The staff stepped into the volunteers’ role and made dinner for food shelter residents, using frozen casseroles and other food that had been saved in case of emergencies.

Pam Siemer, director of development and communications, felt that the shelter was well prepared for the storm and received lots of help from community members.

“We were really grateful for people calling us to see if they could help. People were really concerned about the shelter during the storm,” Siemer said. “We were really lucky. We were spared.

— JESSICA TALSON, Capital News Service