Christmas is over and now comes the bill-paying portion of the holiday.

For some families that means a tight budget will grow even tighter, leaving them with tough choices to make between buying food and paying for other necessities such as rent and heat.

And those food budgets may have to stretch even farther this year, as the annual ACCESS Food for Hope drive is falling far short of its goals. With only a handful of days to go before its end date of Dec. 31, the drive has brought in $15,497 and 7,250 pounds of food. That represents only about 39 percent of the cash goal and 29 percent of the food goal. ACCESS employees were hopeful that donations not yet counted from the Christmas weekend would bolster those numbers, but worried that the totals would still be far short of the targets.

"January is one of our larger months in terms of need," Philip Yates, ACCESS Nutrition Programs director, said Wednesday. "Our focus is not just on the holidays but year round. Christmas has passed, now our focus is on January and February."

Christmas still plays a role in that new year focus, however.

"People stretch their budgets as much as they can in December to give their families a good Christmas," Yates said, "and then they have a tough time in January."

Yates noted that January is also a 31-day month on the back of a 31-day December, which means food stamps are more likely to run out.

"People often have a week or 10 days when they need to find additional food," he said. ACCESS tries to provide a five-day supply of food to all families that come in to one of their 24 food pantries scattered around Jackson County.

And families represents a big part of the need, with kids making up one-third of the more than 26,000 people who received food donations annually from the agency.

"If we don't make the goal, we'll obviously carry on," Yates said. "But it will be more of a struggle for people."

Food donations received go immediately on the pantry shelves, but the money received can stretch even further, with ACCESS able to purchase five pounds of food for every dollar received.

Food donations can be dropped off at any fire station or Umpqua Bank branch, as well as at Food 4 Less and Sherm's Thunderbird grocery stores in Medford.

Four churches are also accepting food donations for ACCESS: Ascension Lutheran Church, 675 Black Oak Drive, Medford; Medford Congregational United Church of Christ, 1802 E. Jackson St.; Westminster Presbyterian Church, 2000 Oakwood Drive, Medford; and First Christian Church, 1900 Crater Lake Ave., Medford.

Cash donations can be mailed to ACCESS Food for Hope, P.O. Box 4666, Medford, OR 97501 or can be made through a secure online site at www.accesshelps.org. Click on the "Food for Hope" box near the top of the homepage and follow the instructions.

"We really encourage people as much as possible to donate during the last week of this drive," Yates said.

— Bob Hunter is associate editor of the Mail Tribune. Reach him at bhunter@mailtribune.com.