The line at the Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg started forming at 11 am. By mid-afternoon, more than 400 pounds of food, and two 50-pound containers of bread had been distributed, collected by the county’s least visible, but most needy individuals.
"I never last with the amount that we're allotted with food stamps, so I've had to look for extra help from food banks like Manna to get me through the month," said Rick, a Maryland resident who preferred not to give his last name.
Formerly a carpenter, chronic health problems and a back injury pushed Rick out of work. Until he is able to get surgery, he remains completely dependent on federal nutrition programs and food aid organizations such as Manna for support.
"It's the first time in my life I've had to depend on resources like this. I've always worked, always been able to support myself," he said. "I get about 200 dollars a month from food stamp benefits, which is about seven dollars a day for food. So I watch the prices carefully, especially for things I like. Like bacon, I love bacon; and I insist on Oscar Mayer bacon because the other stuff just doesn't taste as good. I've seen prices go up from less than $3 a pound, to, last time I checked, over $8 a pound. It's too expensive for me anymore."
Bracing for record numbers this winter, Manna, the largest food distribution center in Montgomery County, is preparing for Thanksgiving week, their busiest of the year. Since 2008, the number of people they serve has more than doubled, with each season bringing record highs. Last year, the center distributed more than 3 million pounds of food in Montgomery County. In November and December, 7,000 families collected food boxes directly from the center.
Despite Montgomery being the 12th richest county in the country, these numbers reflect the fact that for a growing number of Maryland residents, hunger and food insecurity are their reality.
While the state and federal governments have developed nutritional assistance programs to serve as a safety net for the most vulnerable, slow economic recovery, high unemployment and record numbers of people living in poverty are testing these programs like never before.