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Full-time workers still in need

With a 17 percent increase in services rendered from the previous year and 15 percent already this year, ACCESS Inc. has nearly reached its saturation point in Jackson County.

"We have 17 food pantries in Jackson County, one in Ashland," Chris Kelley, ACCESS Food Share Coordinator, said. "Many of our pantries are at storage capacity, which means we cannot assign any more people to them."

ACCESS served 29,261 food boxes last year to 71,505 people. The agency has seen no growth in need for services only once in the last eight years.

At least in part, the growth is fueled by a new segment of the county's population needing ACCESS services: Full time workers who earn at or under poverty levels.

In an ACCESS client survey this month, the agency discovered 24 people on their client roll who are working full time, 21 who are working at least part time and one working full and part time.

"Oregon has the largest number of people working but not working full time in the country," Philip Yates, Manager of the ACCESS Nutrition Program, noted. "Many of those are orchard workers but that is also true in the retail and service industries."

Ends don't meet

Yates said a local study has shown a four percent increase in the number of people who are employed coming to ACCESS for food services.

"We have determined that 33 percent of our clients are working full time," Yates said.

He said those people, as well as others using ACCESS, are given more than a handout.

"Our motto is not to give just a handout but a hand up," he said. "The idea here is to provide resources available from within ACCESS as well as in the community. With those people who are working, the crisis is that they are stretching their resources as much as they can."

Yates said the high cost of housing in Jackson County combined with the high levels of service industry employment exacerbate the problem.

For example, a typical working mother with one child making $8 an hour earns $1,136 per month. But her expenses are $1,660. Those expenses include $75 for medical/emergency, $125 for utilities, $150 for transportation, $360 for daycare, $400 for food/necessities and $550 for rent.

Those who work face another practical obstacle.

"If someone works 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., they can have a hard time getting to a food pantry or getting in to ACCESS for services," Kelley said. "And they may also not want their employer to know they are getting assistance."

Two food pantries in the county are open late hours. Buen Provencho Food Pantry, in the Talent Methodist Church, is open from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday and the West Medford Food Pantry is open Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m.

Other ACCESS clients are in a similar bind. For a senior citizen on a fixed income, it could be just as bad as a working single parent. If they receive $553 per month, with rent ($350), utilities ($100) and insurance ($70) for a total of $520, they would be left with just $33 from their check.

One problem, Kelley noted, is the failure to update the federal poverty level in the past 30 years. Parents with a certain income level lose their childcare subsidy and those who earn over $7.50 an hour do not qualify for Oregon Health Care, further exacerbating the budget squeeze.

The passage or defeat of Measure 30 could have an affect on ACCESS.

"We have taken a conservative approach this year," Yates said. "We are not sure how the cuts will affect us but whenever cuts are made, it affects us."

New methods

In order to continue to serve new clients, ACCESS must find new ways to stock their warehouse.

"We are trying to develop more local resources," Yates said. "In the past year, we have made an agreement with fruit growers to provide us with fruit. We are also working with Fred Meyer, Albertsons, Safeway and Costco to get food from them.

"Plus we are holding food drives and have implemented a food rescue program where we recover food from restaurants, repackage it, freeze it and serve it the next day in our meals program."

The Ashland Food Bank is located in the Ashland Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 1650 Clark Ave. It is open Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to noon and — to 4 p.m. ACCESS has 2 to — food banks open in the county daily.

If you are in need of ACCESS services, go to the nearest food bank to sign up. For more information on ACCESS, call 779-6691 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.