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Ashland food bank runs gravely short of supplies

ASHLAND - A massive increase in need and paltry summer donations have nearly emptied the shelves of the Ashland Emergency Food Bank.

"This is the first time we have even come close to running out of food," said Joan Dean, president of the food bank's board of directors. "If we can't meet the need, we can't stay open."

The food bank's service was 32 percent higher between Jan. — and June 30 this year than it was during the same period in 2000. Dean said the increase was caused by the recent dip in the economy and more people moving to the area.

The food bank has been forced to spend money on staple foods, such as canned goods, cereal, peanut butter, rice and pasta. The money usually goes to produce.

"We've never had to do that before," Dean said. "It's a drain on the budget."

Dean said the food bank may not be able to continue to operate five days a week if the trend continues.

The food bank, which received food requests for 2,546 people in the first half of the year, has responded to the situation with an emergency food drive.

Donations during the weekend helped fill immediate shelves, but the storage unit is still mostly bare. Dean said the food will last three or four days.

"It's just a drop in the bucket," she said.

But the community's response to the situation leaves Dean feeling optimistic.

"We should be able to continue to operate," she said. "We had a great response this weekend, and we hope to be able to fill up the storage unit with staples."

In Medford, the social-service agency ACCESS Inc. also has seen need increase steadily over the last three years. It is not, however, experiencing a food shortage.

Carlus Harris, manager of ACCESS nutrition programs, said that is most likely because ACCESS is a member organization of Oregon Food Bank, which serves as a pipeline for supplies.

ACCESS has 16 food bank sites in Jackson County, two of them in Ashland. Harris said ACCESS would be able to handle services if Ashland Emergency Food Bank ran out of food.

"It would add to the number of folks we serve, but that's what we're in the community for," he said. "We are one of the most successful counties in Oregon in terms of the county's generosity."

Harris and Dean both said summer is traditionally a difficult time for food banks. The Ashland food bank usually relies on reserves from winter and spring to make it through.

Donations increase in the fall, winter and spring because of holidays and coinciding food drives.

"There are certain periods when people's minds turn to more philanthropic activities," Harris said. "Christmas and Thanksgiving are certainly some of those times."

Dean said Easter prompts donations, too.

Ashland Emergency Food Bank has set up barrels for donations at various Ashland gas stations. Donations can be made at Wolff Lithia Exxon at 75 Lithia Way; Astro, 449 E. Main St.; Shell, 1515 Siskiyou Blvd.; and Bi-Mor, 345 Lithia Way.

Reach reporter J.T. Bushnell at 776-4468.