In an effort to make ends meet, four generations of Lisa Nelms' family pool resources by sharing the same house in rural northeast Jackson County as well as meager sources of income.

In an effort to make ends meet, four generations of Lisa Nelms' family pool resources by sharing the same house in rural northeast Jackson County as well as meager sources of income.

Since the economic downturn, two of Nelms' daughters and their families have had to move in with Nelms and their grandfather due to job loss or work hours. The family turns to the food pantry at nonprofit ACCESS Inc. to help supplement certain foods they can't afford.

"ACCESS really helps out a lot," Nelms says. "The food pantry helps us fill gaps in our diets with fresh fruits and vegetables. If it weren't for them, some weeks we wouldn't have much variety: spaghetti, hamburger helper, rice and beans and Ramen noodles. Ramen noodles are big because they're cheap and they're filling."

Today, ACCESS, a philanthropic organization that feeds about 3,200 families each month across Jackson County, will kick off its annual grocery bag food drive called Sharing Food Is Sharing Hope. An ACCESS grocery bag will be enclosed in Monday's Mail Tribune. Donors may also use their own grocery bags, fill them with nonperishable food and drop off the bag at any fire station, Sherm's Thunderbird, Food 4 Less or Umpqua Bank location. The following five churches also serve as drop-off sites: Ascension Lutheran, Medford Congregational, St. Peter's Lutheran, Westminster Presbyterian and First Christian, all in Medford.

"We're hoping people will fill up a bag of food and drop it off at places listed on the bag," says Philip Yates, ACCESS nutrition programs director.

Yates says Nelms and her family illustrate a larger trend in the county and around the nation in which unemployment, foreclosure and reduced work hours have caused families to unite under one roof.

"We are giving out the same number of food boxes (a food box goes to one family and is portioned according to the size of the family), but there are more people in each family, about a 7 to 8 percent increase," Yates says. "That tells us mostly likely people are combining households to make ends meet."

For instance, Nelms lives with four of her children, a soon-to-be son-in-law, three grandchildren and her father-in-law, the grandfather of her youngest child, 14-year-old C.J., who has autism, a total of nine people and four generations in one five-bedroom house in Sams Valley owned by Nelms's father-in-law.

More than two years ago when the recession began, 24-year-old Franny Phillips, and her fiancé, Chris Toves, moved into the household after Toves' hours were cut back at his job as a chef at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Since then, Phillips has had two children, Aviendha Toves, 2, and Sorcha Toves, 1. Nelms's son, C.J., who is homeschooled, and other two daughters, Myrissia Kimball, 20, Katie Kimball, 22, and Katie's 2-year-old son, Bryan Holland, also live with the family. Katie previously lived with her former fiancé but moved in with Nelms and the others after that relationship ended.

Katie and her son get food stamps, while Nelms takes in some child support from C.J.'s father.

Katie and Myrissia say they've been looking for jobs but haven't received any offers. Their situation is complicated by the fact that they don't have vehicles, and it's 17 miles just to get into the town of White City from Sams Valley, Nelms says.

"That's three gallons of gas," Nelms says.

Typical ACCESS food boxes consist of dry goods as well as fresh produce, bread, meats and dairy products, depending on what ACCESS obtains from local grocery stories and the Oregon Food Bank. Each box is portioned according to the family and is designed to provide five days of food.

"Things haven gotten tough enough when I've had to tell everyone there will be no seconds," Nelms says. "ACCESS makes sure we have enough so nobody has to be hungry."

About half of the food ACCESS distributes comes from the Oregon Food Bank, which has partnerships and donors all over the state to obtain free food for the needy.

The remainder of ACCESS food comes from local grocery stores and individual donors.

ACCESS's 22 food pantries feed about 17,000 people in poverty in Jackson County, but estimates are that there are another 18,000 people who are not served by the organization, Yates says. Pantries are located in every city in Jackson County, including Ashland.

This week's grocery bag food drive focuses on gathering dry goods. Most needed items include cold or hot cereals, peanut butter, canned meats, pasta, other canned goods such tuna, soups, vegetables and fruits; and hygiene products, including shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste and toothbrushes.

ACCESS's goal is to collect 30,000 pounds of food and $40,000 in donations during the grocery bag drive, Yates says.

For details, see www.access-inc.org/index.asp

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.