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Jackson County charities do well

Though need was up and donations down this holiday season, Rogue Valley residents continued to be generous and shared what they could, local charity organizations said.

Some individuals who donated in years past found themselves on the receiving end of area social services for the first time this year.

Maj. Glenda Berko, commanding officer for Jackson County's Salvation Army, said her organization provided holiday food and Christmas gifts, including 4,750 toys, for 1,000 families this holiday season.

"The number of requests received were many more this year. Last year, we served about 620 families during the holiday," Berko said. Though the Salvation Army spent $25,000 on food, "the amount of donated food, considering the times we're facing, was phenomenal," she said.

"It was probably less than in previous years but considering people who were our donors two years ago are now asking for assistance, I think we did very well."

ACCESS Inc., the area's largest food pantry, saw a similar pattern of greater need and fewer donations.

Nutrition Programs Director Philip Yates estimated ACCESS will come within 10 or 15 percent of its goal of 25,000 pounds of donated food and perhaps within 35 to 40 percent of its goal for cash donations.

Yates said tonight would be the agency's final night for food collection during the Greystone Court holiday display in Medford, one of its most successful annual food drives. Greystone is off North Phoenix Road just south of Cherry Lane.

"Monetary donations are down but we think the food is holding its own," Yates said.

"We've got a few more days and I think we'll have a decent year even if we don't do as much as last year in dollars."

Tammy Wallace, secretary of the Jackson County Foster Parent Association, said donations helped provide five to eight requested gifts for some 369 foster children this year.

The gifts were purchased by community members who chose a paper hand on Christmas trees at the Rogue Valley Mall and other retail stores for specific foster children. Piles were smaller this year than last, Wallace noted, but "everybody was happy."

"We did have to do some substitutions and there was a small pile of tags not filled, but we were able to take donations and purchase what we needed to make sure everyone got something nice," she said.

"We were very thankful. We had one person who brought a bag to Wal-Mart and left the receipt in the bag, and they spent $700. It was pretty heartwarming."

During the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve's annual Toys for Tots drive, 3,000 kids were provided several gifts each, stocking stuffers and books this year, said regional coordinators Teresa and Monty Fraser. Even in a tough year, Monty Fraser said, Rogue Valley residents exceeded his expectations.

"It is kind of a gamble because you never know how many kids you'll be able to serve each year. There were a lot more people using the service for the first time this year which was sad, but we were able to help everyone who asked us to," Fraser said, noting that leftovers were sent to help other charities and provide gifts for local emergency personnel to provide to area children.

"The Rogue Valley never ceases to amaze me with the generosity of people who live here. It's really heartwarming to think of that many people that care about someone else."

At St. Vincent de Paul, which serves families facing eviction or who are already homeless, coordinators reported better-than-anticipated results this year.

President Len Hebert said though many people have less to give this year, they continued to share what they had.

Aside from the 53,000 meals and 14,000 grocery bags St. Vincent provided during the course of 2008 — a 20 percent increase over last year — some 1,500 bags of food, providing four days' worth of groceries, will be distributed before Santa's pending arrival.

"Our demands are greater and it was a hard thing to accommodate all the demands, but I think going into the season I expected something far less," he said.

"If I have a concern, it's more that the demands are still going to be here and continuing to grow beyond the holiday season," he said.

"I would like to encourage people to remember us in January and February and on into 2009 "¦ because we'll still be in business. There's little doubt the need will continue."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

Mimi Crawford of Tualatin accepts food donations Monday from visitors to Medford’s Greystone Court, where she is staying with friends. Crawford volunteered to help out with the annual ACCESS Inc. food drive on the popular decorated street off North Phoenix Road just south of Cherry Lane. Tonight is the last night to bring donations for ACCESS. - Jim Craven