The Harvest of Want
The need for Southwest Emergency Services keeps growing, and so does its reliance on your help.
Donations to Southwest Emergency Services (SWES) become scarce in the summer.
“It slows down in April,” said Terry Wilford, a regular volunteer, “and picks up again in October.”
So right now—early August with Labor Day and school around the corner—the shelves are getting thin at the food pantry and all-around crisis intervention center at Arbutus United Methodist Church on the 1200 block of Maple Avenue.
Families are still on vacation, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are doing more swimming and camping than food collecting, government programs are tighter than ever, and the hot-weather holidays don’t prompt folks to wonder about the less fortunate the way they do between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“Even when we’re getting a lot we never get more than we can use,” said Wilford, standing by a defrosted freezer was soon scrubbed out. Used bicycles to be delivered by Santa later this year hung from the rafters.
Even with the help of 21 local churches, it’s never quite enough.
Then again, as Rebecca Hoffberger of the American Visionary Art Museum on Key Highway likes to say in times of need, “Something good will happen—it just hasn’t happened yet.”
Like a couple of days ago when the SWES ran out of meat.
Wilford and fellow volunteer Nancy Lindberg were about to give clients canned tuna in lieu of something heartier when someone showed up out of the blue with a crate of chicken quarters; enough leg and thigh pieces for 15 families.
That same day, a load of bread arrived from Safeway supermarkets.
In June, SWES served 190 families with a full grocery cart of food—about enough for a week—and household goods. Some 95 percent of what comes in goes back out. Each family is limited to one visit a month, must show need and prove they live in the 21227 zip code.
SWES was founded almost 30 years ago by program director Betty Okonski, whose heroes include Mother Teresa and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., A member of Arbutus United Methodist, Okonski started the pantry in a closet at her home. It grew into a room at the church and then a building, and then an addition was put on the back of the center.
The need—a harvest of want—keeps growing.
“People have lost their jobs, they’ve lost their part-time jobs,” said Wilford of the Great Recession, which for many has never ended. “We have a harder time helping people; people have a harder time getting help."
On the one hand, people who used to give are having trouble making ends meet themselves. On the other, those who were barely making ends meet can no longer do so and find themselves on the receiving end.
Right now, SWES would welcome donations of canned meat, along with canned fish and chicken, breakfast cereal, rice, spaghetti sauce, beef stew and Spam. Also needed are personal items such as toothpaste and razor blades. Monetary donations, such as tax-deductible checks made out to SWES, are always welcome.
Not needed are peanut butter or canned corn or green beans, which seem to be things people always throw in a care package when making donations.
In addition to a full cart of basics, clients get to select two items from a “miscellaneous” shelf: the spot in the aisle for the oddball stuff that comes in, like a bottle of tamarind concentrate most often used in making Indian curries and chutneys. Wilford pointed out a jar of cocktail sauce and added, a bit sadly, “but no shrimp.”
(If you are the person who chose the tamarind from SWES and want a suggestion, go to the Arbutus public library for a copy of The Brisket Book: A Love Story with Recipes from McMeel publishers. There you’ll find a recipe for “Sweet Chili Jam” that calls for the spicy paste from the subcontinent.)
Fighting hunger is just one of many services offered by SWES, an official United Way organization. They also help with eviction and utility turn-off notices. Not long ago a family lived on the parking lot in their van for a month until an apartment could be found. Once shelter was secured, SWES helped the family set up house.
Later this month, it will give away new composition books and other school items for families who can’t afford them.
Now and then there are petty thefts, the impoverished of conscience stealing from the truly poor.
“Sometimes, women will come, grab an armful of clothes and run out,” said Wilford. “They wind up at yard sales.”
Summer hours at SWES are Mon, Wed and Fri. After labor day it is Mon-Fri. Phone: 410-247-8154.