- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2008

The nonprofit group Bread for the City began its annual Thanksgiving drive this week to help the needy for the holiday. But many recipients say the food is needed for the entire month and that the economic downturn has resulted in record numbers, organizers said Thursday.

“It’s been really challenging for our clients; their needs are greater,” said Kristen Valentine, the group’s director of development.

Since the end of the summer, Bread for the City, which also provides free clothing and medical care to low-income residents, has served roughly 11,000 people a month, a 14 percent increase compared with the same time last year. And on Monday, the first day of the Thanksgiving program, the group broke a record by serving nearly 400 people combined in its Northwest center, near Howard University, and its Southeast center, in Anacostia, Miss Valentine said.

The world economic problems have created a two-dimensional problem for the group and others across the country: In addition to having to feed more people, they have received fewer donations.

Private donations make up nearly half of the group’s income and are down 25 percent this fall, said Bread for the City officials.

“A lot of individuals who donate to our group take that money out of their stock portfolios and other sources of nonessential income, and obviously those have taken a hit recently,” said group spokeswoman Valentine Breitbarth.

George Jones, the group’s executive director, said the situation likely will worsen as the weather gets colder.

“We are trying to brace ourselves for the winter,” he said. “It’s going to be tough for us, but at the same time nobody is hurting more than the poor right now.”

He also said the group usually receives $2 million to $3 million during the holiday season but that donations likely will be reduced this year because of the economy.

Michelle Bush, of Anacostia, said she has been relying on Bread for the City for the past three to four years because she is disabled, unable to work and has to help raise two grandchildren.

“I love Bread for the City because the service is very good and the food is never spoiled,” she said.

For the Thanksgiving program, recipients receive a complete holiday meal of a turkey with trimmings, carrots, fresh produce, cranberry sauce and a recipe for gravy.

Bread for the City will soon get more help from the Capital Area Food Bank, which gives the group roughly 60 percent of its food.

The bank is opening a new warehouse, at 4900 Puerto Rico Ave. NW, that will increase its capacity from 20 million to 40 million pounds.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty visited the group’s Anacostia’s center Thursday to help distribute meals, answer residents’ concerns about crime or unemployment and thank group members.

“We all know that government cannot do it all,” said Mr. Fenty, a Democrat. “That’s why we have wonderful nonprofit organizations such as Bread for the City, which is doing an incredible job helping those in need.”

Pam Minor, of Southeast, said she is unemployed and that the pantry is the only source of food she has each month

“Everybody needs help sometimes, so this is a real good service they’re doing,” said Miss Minor, who is waiting to hear about a job as a food-service worker at an elementary school.

Linda Afolabi, who lives on Yuma Street Southeast, said she has gone to the center every month for the past four or five years.

“I come here for clothing and medical care, and I actually wanted to ask the mayor if he could help me find a part-time job, but I just missed him,” she said.

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