Jacksonville resident Jonathan Bowman will see the brown paper bags inserted into today's Mail Tribune in a different light than he used to.
A regular participant in local food drives and a host of other charity causes, Bowman said he and his family found themselves on the receiving end of community charity this year. They are struggling to make ends meet as he works part-time and tries to secure disability benefits after more than 10 years in the Air Force.
Grocery bags for the annual Food for Hope food drive, a partnership with ACCESS, will appear in today's edition of the Mail Tribune.
Recommended items include hot and cold cereals, peanut butter, canned meats, soups, vegetables and hygiene products.
Bags can be dropped off at any fire station in Jackson County, all Umpqua Bank locations, and Sherm's Thunderbird and Food 4 Less in Medford.
Financial donations can stretch the food dollar even further, with ACCESS able to buy five pounds of food for every dollar donated. Donations may be sent to ACCESS Food for Hope, P.O. Box 4666, Medford OR 97501 or donations may be made online by going to www.accesshelps.org and clicking on the "Donate Now" button on the left side of the page.
Pushing a cart around a room inside the West Medford Food Bank, housed at the Santo Community Center, Bowman and his wife and daughter last week collected five days' worth of meat, fresh and canned vegetables, soup, crackers and pasta as a cold rain poured down outside.
"I've been out of the military for six months and the transition has been difficult. There are no jobs and I'm fighting to get disability benefits, so we've needed a little extra help this year," he said.
Down the hall, some two-dozen patrons of the food bank, all with stories of their own, awaited their turn to stock up on meats, dairy products and veggies. The pantry is one of 25 operated by ACCESS throughout Jackson County.
Philip Yates, ACCESS nutrition programs manager, said the Bowman family's story, while touching, is becoming more common.
Families depending on food stamps typically run out about mid-month, he said, and turn to area food banks for nourishment.
With unemployment levels still at double-digits, families such as Bowman's have switched from giving to joining the ranks of families in need.
"We're finding that the families who used to donate food are the ones coming in for extra help," Yates said.
"Every week, we're moving 27 tons of food (at the 25 pantry locations). This pantry alone distributed 3,000 to 4,000 pounds just today and normally averages 50 families who come for food."
The need for food bank support continues to grow in the wake of cuts to food stamp and other programs that provide food, cash and energy assistance to low-income families. Yates said a 40 percent cut to the Emergency Food and Shelter Program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and used to shore up the gap between food stores and demand, had hit local food banks especially hard.
In August, ACCESS recorded the largest number of households served through the emergency food box program, 3,664.
ACCESS is a partner with the Ashland Food Project, but Yates says it's important that area residents continue to support other food drives to keep up with the growing demand.
Yates said the goal of the bags inserted in the Mail Tribune and Ashland Daily Tidings is to collect $30,000 in cash donations and 30,000 pounds of non-perishable food. Last year, the bags surpassed the food goal and nearly made the cash goal.
"The important thing is to encourage people who want to donate to realize that, for every dollar, we can provide five pounds of food," added Yates.
"That's the best way to help, especially with the prices of food gone up so much recently. It's our best hope to be able to help all the families who need us right now."
Bowman said his family would be at a loss without the added safety net provided by ACCESS food banks.
"So many families are struggling right now," he said.
"My income was cut by half and my wife is trying to find a job, but it's so hard to find anything right now," he said.
"It kind of feels like, 'Welcome home. Here's a food box, but 'happy holidays.'"
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.