The annual ACCESS Food Share Food for Hope has passed the two-thirds mark in collecting donated food for area pantries, but monetary donations remain well below half of the goal set for the holiday collections.

The annual ACCESS Food Share Food for Hope has passed the two-thirds mark in collecting donated food for area pantries, but monetary donations remain well below half of the goal set for the holiday collections.

As of Monday, ACCESS Inc. had received 23,400 pounds of food and $17,745 in cash donations. The goals are 30,000 pounds of food and $40,000 in cash by Dec. 31.

Philip Yates, ACCESS nutrition programs director, said the drive was facing similar dire straits a year ago, but community members rallied to donate a total of 30,437 pounds of food and $40,790 in cash.

"We still have several days to go for this drive," he said. "We need a push, but we're hopeful we can make it."

The dollar donations are particularly vital, Yates noted, because ACCESS can buy about 5 pounds of food for every dollar donated, about the equivalent of a meal for a family of five.

While donations have slowed, the need for help continues its steady climb. Yates said the agency, which manages 22 food pantries in the area, has seen an increase in the number of people per family applying for help. While that has resulted in a 7 to 8 percent increase in the overall number of individuals receiving help, it doesn't mean the families are having more children, but rather that more families are living under one roof.

"We've seen a lot of families combining to share a home and cut down on costs like rent and heating," Yates said.

ACCESS expects to provide food for up to 18,000 different individuals this year, and Yates said the agency is making plans to expand its capabilities to handle the continued increases in needy families. He said plans are in the works to open a 23rd pantry in January, and the goal is to have 25 open by summertime.

"Our pantries are just inundated with people needing help," Yates said. "They just can't handle any more, so we need to expand."

ACCESS will get a boost with this week's kickoff of a different food drive, the ninth annual Greystone Court Food Drive. Neighbors on the cul-de-sac off North Phoenix Road (about a half-mile south of Hillcrest Road) decorate their homes for the Christmas season and add to the holiday effort by collecting food and donations for ACCESS. The event will run 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. through Friday, Dec. 24.