Transcripts

On the Coast: Food Banks In Tourist Towns Gear Up for Winter

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today, we're tossing aside our usual thematic approach and doing a no-holds-barred, free-wheeling, take this idea and run with it, wild cards edition of the show. Coming up, we'll hear from a former teacher who decided to channel his daily frustrations into a scorcher of a blog. And we'll spend some time with Zion Lopez, a 20-year-old transgender woman who has lived a tough life on the streets and now is trying to help other young people in similar situations.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:38
First, though, we're going to talk about an issue that affects people on the streets and beyond. Hunger. It's the topic of our regular segment, On the Coast, in which coastal reporter, Bryan Russo, brings us the latest from coastal Delaware and the eastern shore of Maryland. And Bryan joins us now from Ocean City. Hi there, Bryan.

MR. BRYAN RUSSO

00:00:58
Hi, Rebecca. How are you?

SHEIR

00:01:00
Good, good. So Bryan, when it comes to the issue of hunger where you are, out on the coast, just how big a problem are we talking about?

RUSSO

00:01:07
It's definitely bigger than many people realize. A new Gallup poll just came out and it found that Delaware is third in the nation when it comes to the percentage of people struggling to get enough to eat. And I wanted to find out if that statistic applied even to upscale communities like Rehoboth Beach. So last week, I swung by the Cape Henlopen Food Basket. It's a food bank right off of Route One in Rehoboth. And that's where I met a 21-year-old man named Sean. He had taken two buses to come to the food bank to get food for himself and his mother.

SEAN

00:01:36
We were homeless for eight months, and she lost her job at Chrysler and stuff, so it was really hard 'cause she only had to sell her trailer for $5,000. So the states and the food baskets, they all help out a lot.

SHEIR

00:01:51
And Bryan, I'm guessing Sean's story is one that folks at the Cape Henlopen Food Basket have heard fairly often over the past few years?

RUSSO

00:01:58
It seems to be. The recession hit a lot of people quite hard and the food banks have seen a surge in demand as a result. Tom Stearns is the president of the volunteer board that runs the Food Basket. He says demand for food aid peaked in 2009. But his organization still provided food to 10,000 people last year. And the fall and winter are always the toughest months for his clients.

MR. TOM STEARNS

00:02:17
Some of the people affected are those who have worked in lawn services and that begins to die down in the fall. And some of our motels and hotels shut down. And of course, the restaurants some of them close down. So you have -- it's kind of a lessening of places to make some money.

SHEIR

00:02:35
So Bryan, looking ahead, as the cold weather creeps in, will there be enough food at the food banks for all the people who are looking for help?

RUSSO

00:02:44
Well, last week, I went to the Maryland Food Bank's warehouse in Salisbury, Md. It's a 13,000-square-foot facility that provides food to smaller food banks and shelters all over the region. Jennifer Small is the manager there and she says right now, things are going pretty well.

MS. JENNIFER SMALL

00:02:58
We're still having to purchase a lot of food, but the governor's grant is now kicking in. We just got done with our Maryland emergency food grant, which entitled us to food subsidies so that we could put more out to the community. So what you're seeing now is just that influx of donations coming in from outside sources.

RUSSO

00:03:16
Local farms are also donating a lot of produce to food banks right now. So they're able to give out a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables than they might otherwise.

SHEIR

00:03:24
All right, so the good thing I'm hearing is a lot of people may need help, but the food banks are basically able to keep up with that demand. But I wonder, do people expect that to continue? Is there like a breaking point people are anticipating somewhere down the line?

RUSSO

00:03:39
Well, once the holidays are over and the donations dry up, it's always a different story. And then there's the fact that many of the people who work at places like the Cape Henlopen Food Basket are volunteers. Many of whom are retired and getting on in years. Here's Tom Stearns again.

STEARNS

00:03:54
90 to 95 volunteers and all of us are a bit long in the tooth. I am concerned that we will have the same devotion in volunteers coming on.

RUSSO

00:04:06
Stearns says finding people with that devotion is the key because his organization has morphed into a really important social service agency, one that thousands of people will be relying on in the coming months.

SHEIR

00:04:17
Indeed. Well, Bryan, thank you so much for bringing us this story.

RUSSO

00:04:21
You're very welcome.

SHEIR

00:04:22
Bryan Russo is the coastal reporter for WAMU and the host of "Coastal Connection." And if you're curious about that show, we have a link on our website, metroconnection.org. We also have information about the food banks we've discussed today as well as food banks right here in the Washington region. Again, it's all on metroconnection.org.
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