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Capital Area Food Bank Feeds Washington's Hungry

Thanksgiving, November 22, is a holiday that is traditionally celebrated with sharing food. Families and friends get together to dine on turkey, cranberries and mashed potatoes or stuffing. And in communities across the country, volunteers prepare and serve meals or distribute baskets of food to the hungry.

But hunger isn't something that happens only once a year. The U.S. Census Bureau says that in the Washington, D.C. area 633,000 people live in poverty. As a result many of them face hunger. The Capital Area Food Bank is a vital resource providing them with food from individual and corporate donations. VOA's Susan Logue reports.

Every Tuesday, at 1:00 pm, Canaan Baptist Church serves a hot meal to anyone who shows up at its door. "We've been told that for some of them, this meal that we fix every Tuesday, this is the only meal they may get all week," says Carrie Ivey, president of the church's missionary ministry. "They may get sandwich and coffee; we try to give them a complete sit-down meal in a family environment."

Almost all of the food the church uses to prepare the meal comes from the Capital Area Food Bank, a large brick building a few kilometers north of the U.S. Capitol. It looks like any other food warehouse, with row after row of shelves stocked with cartons and pallets of canned goods stacked several meters high.

Mary Eaton comes here every Friday to pick up provisions for the Tuesday meals at Canaan Baptist Church and to replenish the church's food pantry. "We make food bags for anyone who comes into the church and says they need food, regardless of who they are," she says.

Eaton represents one of more than 700 local churches and other agencies in the Washington area that use the Food Bank to help them feed the hungry.

Most of the people helped are not the homeless. They are often families that have income, but are still struggling to meet their basic needs. "Especially in our area, with rental costs, it's tough to make ends meet," says Marian Peele, the Capital Area Food Bank's director of agency relations.

"What a family will typically do is they'll make sure that they can get to work. They'll make sure they maintain their shelter," she says. "What's the thing they can cut? They can cut food."

That's where the Capital Area Food Bank can help. The shelves here are stocked with donations from local food drives and grocery stores. Big food manufacturers and retail chains across the country have contributed, too, redistributing their surplus food inventories through America's Second Harvest, a non-profit network that helps supply 200 similar food banks across the U.S.

Some of the food is sorted and bagged by volunteers at the Capital Area Food Bank. Most of it leaves in large quantities, and is taken to local food pantries and soup kitchens that distribute it to the hungry, not only on holidays like Thanksgiving, but every day of the year.

"The food bank feeds a lot of people, a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't have anything," says Mary Eaton of Canaan Baptist Church. "We would not be able to do what we do if it was not for the food bank."

Her church is not alone. A survey conducted in 2005 showed that the Capital Area Food Bank provided food to 323,000 people through its member agencies. Two thirds of those agencies said if the food bank ever closed, they would, too.