This paper presents the findings of an exploratory study of voluntarily organized emergency food centers in Baltimore. These agencies comprise the heart of a tertiary welfare system that provides basic survival supplies without a means test to the needy who cannot obtain relief from traditional public or private sources. Forty-one emergency food services were identified in Baltimore and the heads of 37 of these agencies were interviewed in depth. The findings indicated that a large and heterogeneous population bad utilized emergency food agencies and that the agencies generally met the requisites for a true safety-net function - i.e., accessibility, non-bureaucratic structure, and few eligibility rules. The data suggest strengthening the role of voluntary charitable agencies in welfare reforms directed at achieving universal safety-net coverage in the society.

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