The 24 ACCESS Inc. food pantries around the valley are seeing a marked jump in multi-generational families coming in for monthly food boxes, which makes it all the more important for the agency to meet its goal of collecting 30,000 pounds of food and $30,000 in the annual grocery bag drive.
The brown paper bags are stuffed in today's Daily Tidings and Mail Tribune, and may be filled with nonperishables, such as cereals, peanut butter, canned meat, pasta, canned veggies or fruit and hygiene products, such as shampoo and toothpaste — then dropped off at any fire station, Sherm's Thunderbird, Umpqua Bank branch, Food 4 Less or any of the five churches printed on the bags.
While food is gratefully accepted, the annual Food for Hope drive is even more dependent on cash donations. For each dollar donated, five meals can be purchased, thanks to ACCESS' connections through federal programs and other suppliers.
Fill up the grocery bag included in today's paper and deliver it to any fire station, Sherm's Thunderbird, Umpqua Bank branch, Food 4 Less or the five churches printed on the bags.
For every $1 donated, ACCESS can buy five meals. Mail donations to ACCESS Food for Hope, P.O. Box 4666, Medford, OR 97501. Pledge forms are also printed on the bags.
Donations may be mailed to ACCESS Food for Hope, P.O. Box 4666, Medford, OR 97501. Pledge forms are also printed on the bags.
The donations are especially needed this holiday season to cope with a major increase in multi-generational families. That would include the 11 people crammed in the one-bedroom Medford apartment of Paula Danskill — herself, a brother, three grown children and six grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all living on her Social Security of $890 a month. Rent is $495.
"It's rough. I do arts and crafts on the side to help out, but it gets hectic at times," says Danskill, as she picked up a food box from the pantry at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Central Point. "We all pull together."
In his single-wide trailer in Rogue River, John Miller last week had 10 family members, including two grown daughters, their partners and grandchildren, all sleeping on two beds, a couch, two recliners and the floor.
A relieved Miller, 50, says the trailer occupancy now is down to three, but knows the need won't go away.
"The food pantry has helped a lot over the last six years," he said. He was an aluminum polisher till the crash wiped out his job.
Don Griffin of Rogue River is coping with cancer and has himself, a grown daughter and her boyfriend, all unemployed, living on his $1,300 a month Social Security in a two-bedroom house that rents for $650 a month.
"My situation is bad to poor but we get enough to eat and that one check has to go the month," says Griffin.
The grocery bag drive runs through the end of the year and the donations will last through the end of March, says Philip Yates, ACCESS Nutrition Programs manager.
The ACCESS pantry network distributed 42,000 food boxes last year or about 3,600 boxes a month. Individuals earning less than $1,722 a month are eligible; for a family of four, the income limit is $3,554.
"For us, it's about feeding people all year-round," says Yates. "Family members, multi-generationally, are moving in together so they can afford food. It's a major increase over last year."
Eligible families may get one food box a month and it lasts about five days, he adds. Demand increases around Thanksgiving because families spend money on a turkey, he adds.
In the face of growing hunger, generosity also abounds at this time of year. At Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, one parishioner spends $2,400 and gets a turkey for each family in need.
Pantry manager Vivian Nordhagen, says she feeds about 180 families a month. She lays the problem squarely at the feet of unemployment, something she hasn't seen improve in years, but says, "I do think we've hit bottom and it should be improving now."
Most food pantries are donated space in churches — and there are now about 30 food drives being put on by schools, churches and other organizations, said Nordhagen, as she looked over the 1,100 pounds of food rounded up by families of Mae Richardson Elementary School in Central Point.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com.