Rising food prices continue to take a toll on low-income families and the Ashland Emergency Food Bank acquired new grant funding this year to help meet the demand.

The all-volunteer food bank has never applied for a grant in more than 30 years of operation.

Vice president Ann Marie Hutson first sought grant funding in November as demand began to outstrip supply. In November of 2006, the food bank served 141 people. In November of 2007, that number jumped to 614.

"Our numbers are continuing to go up," Hutson said.

The largest grant came from the Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation, which provided $15,000 to supply the food bank with canned meat. A $7,240 grant from the West Family Foundation keeps the bank stocked with eggs and included a new refrigerator to store them.

According to Hutson, 8 percent of those served by the food bank are homeless and 92 percent are working poor. The food bank currently serves around 700 people every month, and brings in an average of 100 individual food donations. Hutson attributes the increasing demand to recent economic downturns.

"It's like the canary in the mine," she said.

The Ashland Food Co-op provided a $1,500 grant toward the AEFB's "Hermanos" program, which provides winter food supplies for local seasonal workers and their families. An unnamed donor provided the food bank with $5,063 through the Oregon Community Foundation.

Other grants came from the City of Ashland, ProTools, the Ashland Springs Hotel, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Talent Wal-Mart. Hutson hopes the grant-writing process will lead to greater exposure and further funding for AEFB.

The April 30 closure of ICCA's Ashland branch, with which the food bank shared a building, led some to believe that AEFB had closed as well. Food manager Brad Woodring said he has even met transients in the immediate vicinity of the building who did not know that AEFB was still there.

"The food bank is open and we're going strong," he said.

The AEFB provides families with one emergency supply of food per month. Instead of handing out boxes of food, the food bank allows people to shop directly from its shelves. In addition to the new protein selections, the AEFB has also added a new vegetarian section and produce items.

According to coordinator Marge Zettler, users are delighted by the new food choices.

"Meat is a real luxury for some people," she said.

Woodring said canned meat and hearty soups in particular are always in demand. As the price of food increases with the price of gas, demand shows no sign of slowing. The food bank depends on regular donations and food drives to keep its shelves stocked.

"Prices for everything are going up except your pay," Woodring said.

The AEFB was founded in 1972, and is currently maintained by seven local Christian churches and two synagogues. Each congregation provides volunteers and manages the food bank for a designated time each year.

"In 35 years, everything that went to the hungry came from the Ashland-Talent community," Hutson said. "100 percent."

The Ashland Emergency Food Bank is located at 2200 Ashland St. It is open from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on weekdays and on the first Saturday of every month.