On Thanksgiving Day, two families were especially thankful.

Kyle Tuttle, a young, hard-working father of two, admits “funds were running low and it looked like we weren’t going to have food for the holiday.”

An ACCESS emergency food pantry, he says, provided his family of four with a turkey and “everything else” for a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Kelly Kamacho is grateful for the more healthful lifestyle her family enjoys.

She has dropped 115 pounds as well as the need for at least 10 different prescription medications. Her 16-year-old son and husband have each dropped 40 pounds, as well.

Kamacho, 41, credits the fruits and vegetables provided by the ACCESS Mobile Healthy Pantry for the “amazing” change. She’s even reversed her diabetes, she says, and has a greater awareness of the foods that cause her fibromyalgia to flare.

The Tuttles and Kamachos are among the nearly 9,000 low-income families in Jackson County served by ACCESS, a nonprofit that provides food, housing and essential services to roughly 26,000 individuals — children, adults, seniors and people with disabilities.

To continue serving those people, ACCESS must keep 24 emergency food pantries fully stocked, as well as seven local soup kitchens and the mobile food pantry.

ACCESS launches its annual “Food for Hope” campaign today. A grocery bag is inserted in this edition of the Mail Tribune, with a plea to fill it with nutritious foods. The monthlong food drive will continue until Dec. 31.

“We’ve been doing this grocery bag food drive since 1984,” says Philip Yates, nutrition director for ACCESS. “It’s the longest running and biggest (campaign) in Jackson County.

“It’s an opportunity at the holiday time for folks around the county to provide those families most in need with the essentials.”

The goal is 30,000 pounds of food and $40,000 in cash donations. For every dollar collected, ACCESS is able to provide five pounds of food or the equivalent of four meals.

The focus is on nutrition, Yates adds.

Despite Oregon’s economic upswing, low- and moderate-income Oregonians are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.

According to a 2015 report issued by the Oregon Center for Public Policy, the state recorded the second-biggest jump in food insecurity, even as food insecurity declined at the national level. Hunger also rose locally while remaining flat nationally. Nearly one in six Oregon households was “food insecure” during the three-year period of 2012–2014, and 6.3 percent of Oregon households experienced hunger.

In Jackson County, the story is the same, as high housing costs and relatively low incomes from seasonal and part-time jobs make finances extremely tight for families.

Yates says that while the number of people in need in Jackson County has not increased in recent years, “the number of families in need are in need more often.”

With the high cost of food, especially nutritious and fresh foods, a month’s allotment of food stamps generally lasts 2½ to 3 weeks, Yates says.

“They’re struggling the remaining seven to 10 days,” he adds.

Families are able to pick up a five-day emergency supply of food once a month. The families who in the past picked up four to five boxes during the year are now picking up six or more boxes, Yates says.

In addition, ACCESS reaches out to elementary schools, such as Jackson and Roosevelt, where 80 to 90 percent of the students receive free or reduced-price lunches.

Tuttle recalls when both he and his wife were out of work.

“When we were starting out, we went to ACCESS every month for a year,” he says.

Even after landing a job, he says, they’ve had to rely on the food pantry in emergencies.

Just paying the rent, he says, sharply cuts into the food budget.

“Minimum wage goes up, but so does everything else.”

When the work is seasonal or reduced to part-time, it’s a struggle “to stay up on our feet,” he adds.

Plagued by fibromyalgia, diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and an enlarged heart, Kamacho could not hold down a job and had to go on disability. Her family’s food budget is even tighter in the winter, when her husband, a seasonal vineyard worker, is unemployed.

With a fixed income, Kamacho says, it is “a challenge” to maintain a strict diet and keep her chronic illnesses in check.

Nutrition plays a significant role in chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, says Yates.

Many low-income families, he adds, struggle to manage healthy dietary needs on very limited monthly food budgets.

“In fact, of the families we serve at the food pantries, 48 percent have someone in their family who has high blood pressure and 27 percent have someone with diabetes,” he says.

The mission of the Mobile Healthy Pantry is to provide those with chronic diseases greater access to fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

The mobile pantry serves 20 households at each of its two sites — La Clinica Wellness Center and Rogue Community Health. Clients are escorted around the truck by a personal shopper and receive information pertinent to their chronic disease from a dietitian. Healthful recipes are demonstrated by Cooking Matters Program volunteers, and at one of the sites, Rogue Community Health, the staff offers blood-pressure checks.

“(ACCESS) has been a blessing,” says Kamacho.

The difference has been her ability to reduce the symptoms and pain of fibromyalgia with proper nutrition, which in turn has allowed her to be more active.

Better food has given her more hope.

— Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at tammyasnicar@q.com.