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Local food banks face lean times

The holidays have ended and, to a large extent, so has giving to local food banks, said Vicki Penny, food share coordinator for ACCESS Inc.

"There is a general indication of burnout right after the holidays. And with the economy, the need's increased and the donations maybe haven't increased enough to meet those needs," she said Thursday.

That's why Linda Vista Nursing & Rehabilitation Center is holding a donation drive this month for the ACCESS food bank in Ashland.

"The holiday season shouldn't be the only time that we give — we should give the whole year," said Sheena Richards, admissions coordinator and marketing director at Linda Vista. "With the economy the way it is now we all need to do our part, that's for sure."

The food drive started Jan. 6 and will continue until the end of the month, said Richards, who is organizing the effort.

Locals can drop off canned goods at the 135 Maple St. center between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily. ACCESS especially encourages people to donate canned tuna, chicken, stew, fruits and vegetables, as well as potatoes and boxes of pasta and pizza, Richards said.

The ACCESS food bank served 97 families in December, sizably more than the 62 families it served just three months earlier, according to data recently released by the nonprofit. Each family has on average about two people, although family size varies greatly, Penny said. Every household can visit the food bank 12 times per year.

"January and February are really hard months for people," Penny said. "That's the time you suddenly look around and see what you possibly spent for the holidays and the heating bills start to roll in for cold months, and food is the one thing that people can cut back on."

Usually ACCESS depends on holiday donations to last through February, but this year the nonprofit received slightly fewer donations than in previous years, likely due to the recession, Penny said.

Countywide there was about a 10 percent increase in ACCESS food bank customers in July, August and September, she said.

"But I think the main story's going to be the increase in November, December and January," she added.

The Ashland Emergency Food Bank has also seen more customers in recent months. The nonprofit served 66 percent more locals — 1,076 people — last month than in December 2007, said Ann Marie Hutson, vice president of the Ashland Emergency Food Bank.

"The need for food and cash donations for the Ashland Emergency Food Bank continues as we are feeding more and more people each month," Hutson wrote in an e-mail message Thursday. "We greatly appreciate the generosity shown by the community of Ashland in 2008 and trust that generous spirit will continue through 2009."

Penny also encouraged Ashlanders who don't have enough groceries to visit a food bank.

"I think it's important for people to know that we are there to help and that there's no stigma to come to us," she said. "There are a lot of people that are in need right now. I don't want anybody going hungry because they're too embarrassed to come and get food."

Staff writer Hannah Guzik can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.