A flurry of post-Christmas generosity pushed ACCESS Inc past its goals for cash donations and goods in the annual Food for Hope grocery bag drive.

A flurry of post-Christmas generosity pushed ACCESS Inc. past its goals for cash donations and goods in the annual Food for Hope grocery bag drive.

"We appreciate this community stepping up to help the hungry individuals and families," said Philip Yates, ACCESS' nutrition program director.

A final holiday push included a direct mail campaign and the annual Food For Hope drive in which donations of food and money are returned to ACCESS in grocery bags delivered in the Mail Tribune and Daily Tidings. The dual efforts garnered enough food and money to surpass the year's goals of 30,000 pounds of food and $37,000, Yates said.

"With a few more pick-ups and donations to add in the next couple of days, we have received 30,437 pounds of food and $40,790 in donations," he said.

For the second six months of 2009, ACCESS saw an increase in overall donations of food by more than 15 percent compared with the same time period the previous year, Yates added.

In Jackson County, the number of people seeking food support has increased by more than 8 percent over the past year, with children making up 38 percent of those ACCESS is helping to feed.

The poor economy increased Jackson County residents' need for food and assistance. The displacement added to ACCESS' burden and caused the agency to make a final push for 2009 donations after fundraising efforts initially appeared to be falling short.

"The community has really stepped up and helped with cash and food donations, and we appreciate the generosity displayed during this holiday season," said Gary Miller, ACCESS executive director, in a press release.

In response to the growing demand, the agency increased the number of food pantries in the past year from 19 to 22, with new pantries opening in White City, Medford and the Ashland Greensprings area.

"This year we are looking to open at least another two pantries in order to keep up with the need," Yates said.

The pantries provide food for more than 7,200 individuals each month.

ACCESS will continue working to increase donations of food from public food drives, grocery stores, food producers and local farms. But cash contributions from the public, which are tax-deductible, allow the agency to provide 5 pounds of food, or approximately five meals, for every dollar donated, he said.

"January is often one of our busiest months and we will have some indication of whether we will continue to see further increases when we see those numbers," Yates said.

Reach Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.