Service organizations across Jackson County are seeing a reduction in a federal grant money they've relied on to provide emergency food and shelter to those in need.
In Ashland, Peace House uses the money it receives through the Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program to operate Uncle Food's Diner, a free meal offered every Tuesday at Ashland's First United Methodist Church.
Last week, the nonprofit was among 11 organizations to receive a chunk of $112,163 released to Jackson County organizations by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has administered the program since 1983.
"It's lucky that they did this, because we were at the point of really wondering where are we going to get the money from, looking at an empty take," said Ruth Coulthard, office manager for Peace House.
Peace House received about $3,200 this year, the same as last year, but less than half of what the organization has been awarded during most of the last decade, Coulthard said. Previously, the funding was about $7,400.
"It's become a constant scramble to find the help that we need to keep Uncle Food's alive," she said. "What we have now will get us through a few months, but then you have to cover more months."
Coulthard said the community meal, which has no income criteria for meal recipients, typically serves about 100 people each week during most of the year, and 60 to 70 during the winter.
"It's a continuing need in the community and we need donations to support it," she said. "We are feeding low-income people as well as homeless people. A lot are seniors and families with children "… people that you wouldn't expect trying to stretch their dollar."
Peace House isn't alone in feeling the pinch, said Stephanie Mendenhall of Jackson County Health and Human Services, which oversees the allocation process locally.
In Medford, ACCESS, Maslow Project, Dunn House, Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul and Arc of Jackson County, among others, are all receiving less from the FEMA program than two years ago.
Ashland Community Food Bank, which received about $3,200 last year, chose not to apply this year because of new guidelines requiring the money be spent no later than March 31, Mendenhall said.
In 2010, the county received $188,810, according to data provided by Mendenhall; in 2011, the total was $121,145.
For the past two years, Congress has allocated about $120 million to the program, federal data shows, the lowest amount since 2000.
"There are cuts everywhere, and I think every nonprofit agency is struggling with those things," she said. "This is not guaranteed funding "… people should never believe that this is a line item in their budget that will remain from year to year."
Trickling down from the federal level, the funding is first allocated to a local FEMA Board in Jackson County, which decides how it will be dispersed among the organizations who apply.
How much each local board gets is based on its county's jobless rate, Mendenhall said, making the grant a historically inconsistent source of funding for local organizations.
"Nobody knows if it will continue to come in, frankly," said Jackie Schad, executive director for ACCESS, which operates food pantries throughout the county.
ACCESS received about $39,000 through the grant program this year, Mendenhall said, down from $54,000 in 2010.
Like Peace House, Schad said, ACCESS is constantly working to find new sources of funding as others decline.
"I think we are all struggling to fill gaps," she said.
Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.