Freezers and shelves are near bare, Intake Worker Cheryl Alsop said.

By Ed Simmons, Jr.

No peanut butter.
No macaroni and cheese.
No canned meats.

Last Wednesday Director of Social Services Cynthia Green called The Caroline Progress to ask help getting the word out to County churches, individuals and businesses that the agency's Food Pantry is near empty.

"We desperately need food," said Green. "As soon as we get a shipment in, it's gone in a week."

The Progress paid a visit to the Food Pantry to talk with Intake Worker Cheryl Alsop and found that the shelves were indeed near bare. There was a smattering of canned corn and green beans, but no pork and beans, no spaghetti sauce, no canned ravioli, no tuna, no Spam, little cereal, no powdered milk.

The only things in abundance were canned cranberries left over from Christmas – or maybe Thanksgiving – and boxes of empty-calorie "Oodles of Noodles" which fill and taste great, but don't nourish.

The agency's two freezers were also about empty. At the bottom of one were a few of small, lonesome-looking packages of frosted-over hamburger. These go quick, said Alsop, who estimated that about 100 families visit the pantry each month. Higher on the freezer's barren shelves were several packages of donated deer meat – one labeled "Neck."

The pantry is particularly important as a source of "emergency food," Alsop said, for when food stamps run out or food money is used to pay a bill.

"These last two months we've been bombarded," she said. "We try not to turn anybody away."

Alsop identified the price of gas as the culprit. Also utility bills are higher, some people are getting laid off and others are having hours cut back.

Alsop said she was particularly concerned about when the school term is out and parents must provide breakfast and lunch during the week.

Alsop said that what the Food Pantry particularly needs is canned meat like tuna and Spam, pastas like spaghetti, peanut butter and jelly, and cereal.

Perishable foods like hot dogs, hamburger and bologna are also needed.

Cash donations can also be made.

The rise in the cost of food has indeed been dizzying. Worldwide, the United Nations determined that the prices of cereals, meat, sugar, dairy products and oil climbed 57 percent from March 2007 to March 2008.

A number of factors are to blame, foremost the cost of corn driven up by the demand for ethanol. Other causes are a weak dollar, high-energy costs and a poor crop in places like Australia.

Across the County, Alsop said she knew of emergency food pantries open to the public at five Caroline churches – Second Mount Zion Baptist, Jerusalem Baptist in Sparta, St. Mary of the Annunciation Catholic Church, Bethel United Methodist and Rehobeth United Methodist.

Wright's Chapel sends food to both St. Mary's and Rehobeth.

And recently started up in Bowling Green is Glory Outreach administered by Salem Baptist Church, which helps out with food on a monthly basis.

"The problem with the church pantries is that they're open only a few hours a week," said Alsop.

In the County, the demand for help with food is high. The number of Caroline families on food stamps is 1,237. The number last year was 900. There are over 8,000 families in Caroline.

"We need to emphasize to the churches and the businesses that we need their donations," said Alsop. "Donations are way down." Between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, churches, businesses and individuals can bring donations of non-perishable or perishable food to the Social Services Department located in the Social Services Building a mile south of Bowling Green on Route 301. For information, call Cheryl Alsop at 633-5071, extension 105.