This year's ACCESS Inc. holiday Food for Hope drive continues to lag behind 2008's totals, thanks in part to the sour economy, officials said.

This year's ACCESS Inc. holiday Food for Hope drive continues to lag behind 2008's totals, thanks in part to the sour economy, officials said.

The charity is still nearly 8,000 pounds short of its goal of 30,000 pounds of donated food meant for needy Jackson County families during the holiday season.

Food donations are not the only thing taking a hit this year. Cash donations also are down, said ACCESS Nutritional Program Director Philip Yates.

"The unfortunate part of lower cash donations is that it can offset the losses in the pounds of food we receive," Yates said. "For every dollar we can provide about five pounds of food, which makes a real difference."

ACCESS has raised $23,727 so far in 2009, well short of its goal of $37,000.

ACCESS Executive Director Gary Miller has said 38 percent of the food need is for local children.

ACCESS has reported donations have dropped off in a particularly bad year in which thousands of local families have lost jobs in the economic downturn.

With 10 days to go, things really need to pick up to ensure hundreds of families will have enough food to put on the table for the holiday season.

Three county residents participated in a mad-dash shopping spree hosted by ACCESS at the North Fred Meyer on Crater Lake Highway.

The three customers, two from Medford and one from Grants Pass, won a chance to fly through the Fred Meyer collecting food.

The sprees were donated by Fred Meyer, Kellogg's and Stimson Lane, a wine vendor. Participants could keep whatever they gather in the store in two minutes, with a cap of $700.

To be sure, ACCESS does not focus solely on the holiday season, Yates said.

"We collect food and donations throughout the year," he said. "The benefit of the holiday food drives is the food we collect can launch us into the next three months of 2010."

Despite the toll the economy has taken on Jackson County residents as a whole, Yates remains optimistic about the food drive's potential this season.

"We think the community will come through," Yates said. "Even with a recession to deal with, we believe we can meet our goals. We are short now, but we think we can meet these goals."

The annual food drive, now in its 26th year, is co-sponsored by Sherm's Thunderbird Markets and the Mail Tribune. Its goal for the 2009 drive, which runs through the end of December, is to raise 30,000 pounds of food and $37,000 in cash. Each dollar donated to ACCESS can be used to purchase approximately 5 pounds of food.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.