In an effort to make ends meet, four generations of Lisa Nelms' family pool resources by sharing the same house in rural northeast Jackson County as well as meager sources of income.

In an effort to make ends meet, four generations of Lisa Nelms' family pool resources by sharing the same house in rural northeast Jackson County as well as meager sources of income.

Since the economic downturn, two of Nelms' daughters and their families have had to move in with Nelms and their grandfather because of job loss or work hours. The family turns to the food pantry at nonprofit ACCESS Inc. to help supplement certain foods they can't afford.

"ACCESS really helps out a lot," Nelms says. "The food pantry helps us fill gaps in our diets with fresh fruits and vegetables. If it weren't for them, some weeks we wouldn't have much variety: spaghetti, hamburger helper, rice and beans and Ramen noodles. Ramen noodles are big because they're cheap and they're filling."

Today, ACCESS, a philanthropic organization that feeds about 3,200 families each month across Jackson County, will kick off its annual grocery bag food drive called Sharing Food Is Sharing Hope. An ACCESS grocery bag is enclosed in today's Daily Tidings. Donors may also use their own grocery bags, fill them with nonperishable food and drop off the bag at any fire station, Sherm's Thunderbird, Food 4 Less or Umpqua Bank location. The following five churches also serve as drop-off sites: Ascension Lutheran, Medford Congregational, St. Peter's Lutheran, Westminster Presbyterian and First Christian, all in Medford.

"We're hoping people will fill up a bag of food and drop it off at places listed on the bag," says Philip Yates, ACCESS nutrition programs director.

Yates says Nelms and her family illustrate a larger trend in the county and around the nation in which unemployment, foreclosure and reduced work hours have caused families to unite under one roof. "We are giving out the same number of food boxes (a food box goes to one family and is portioned according to the size of the family), but there are more people in each family, about a 7 to 8 percent increase," Yates says. "That tells us mostly likely people are combining households to make ends meet."

For instance, Nelms lives with four of her children, a soon-to-be son-in-law, three grandchildren and her father-in-law, the grandfather of her youngest child, 14-year-old C.J., who has autism, a total of nine people and four generations in one five-bedroom house in Sams Valley owned by Nelms's father-in-law.

Typical ACCESS food boxes consist of dry goods as well as fresh produce, bread, meats and dairy products, depending on what ACCESS obtains from local grocery stories and the Oregon Food Bank. Each box is portioned according to the family and is designed to provide five days of food. The boxes are distributed from 22 food pantries across Jackson County, including Ashland.

"Things haven gotten tough enough when I've had to tell everyone there will be no seconds," Nelms says. "ACCESS makes sure we have enough so nobody has to be hungry."

Reach Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.