Apost-Christmas boost in generosity helped push the annual ACCESS Food for Hope grocery drive closer to its target — but with about four days remaining, it still is short of its goal of $30,000 cash and 30,000 pounds of food.
As of Friday morning, cash donations were at $25,075 and nonperishable food totaled 18,325 pounds. About $5,000 in donations were recorded on Thursday, which helped push the cash total to above 80 percent of the goal. Coordinators were still tallying food donations.
The annual drive is a key part of the effort to keep Jackson County's 24 food pantries going until May, when a Postal Service drive helps replenish the shelves, said Alec Schwimmer, nutrition program coordinator for ACCESS.
The drive is especially critical this year, as the number of families turning to ACCESS food pantries exceeded 4,000 for the first time. Schwimmer said that not only are there more families, but there are also more people in many of them as those facing hunger and joblessness move in together.
A partnership of ACCESS, Sherm's Thunderbird / Food 4 Less and the Mail Tribune, the Food for Hope drive is now in its 30th year.
Grocery bags were distributed in the Mail Tribune and Daily Tidings, but donors may bring food by any means to all fire stations, Umpqua Banks, Food 4 Less, Sherm's Thunderbird and the Mail Tribune.
The donated food helps fill the pantry shelves, but cash donations stretch even further, with ACCESS able to purchase about 4 pounds of food for every $1 donated. Donations may be mailed to ACCESS Food for Hope, P.O. Box 4666, Medford, OR 97501. A secure online donation may be made by going to www.accesshelps.org and clicking on the button labeled "Bag Hunger! Food for Hope Drive."
The drive is scheduled to end on the last day of the year, Tuesday.
"We're still striving to reach that goal, but we're shy of it now," said Schwimmer. "People here are famous for their giving, but it's down because there are more people worried about their own families and they have less resources. There's more concern about making ends meet. They want to help but prices of food and fuel are going up but the economy isn't."
The drive seeks donations of non-perishables, especially those with protein, such as peanut butter and canned meats. Also welcome are canned soup, vegetables, fruit and hot and cold cereal. Recipients need toiletries, including shampoo, toothpaste and deodorant.
"This is our only opportunity to capture the public's attention and get food to pantries until May," he noted. "It's sad to say this, but hunger doesn't take a holiday during this time. We fight it all year and this drive is a vital component of that fight. You can see it (the hunger) in pantries; the weight of boxes is going up as family size increases."
Most pantry users are on the federal government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps), which was pared back by Congress earlier this year.
"They're all well aware of the cut in that program," said Schwimmer
The food pantries — located near every community or town in the county — are run by some 300 volunteers who invest 40,000 hours a year in getting the food distributed.
Bags of food may be dropped at all fire stations in the county, all Umpqua Bank branches, Sherm's Thunderbird, 2347 Jacksonville Highway, Food 4 Less, 2230 Biddle Road, Mail Tribune, 111 N. Fir St., ACCESS at 3630 Aviation Way, First Christian Church, 1900 Crater Lake Ave., (Monday-Tuesday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.), Ascension Lutheran Church, 675 Black Oak Drive (Monday-Tuesday, 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m.), Medford Congregational Church, 1801 E Jackson St. (deliver to Lidgate Hall Office in back of property), St. Peter's Lutheran, 1020 E. Main St., (Tuesday, 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Westminster Presbyterian, 2000 Oakwood Drive, (9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m.)
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com.