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ACCESS campaign targets childhood hunger

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune ACCESS volunteers and employees work at its food pantry warehouse on Aviation Way Friday in Medford.

For Southern Oregon’s regional food bank, the start of summer vacation is a time of increased concern rather than reduced worries.

With about half of Medford students on free or reduced-price lunch, the summer marks a time when “food-insecure” children no longer have access to a nutritious meal every day, according to ACCESS Advancement Director Kellie Battaglia.

“Our concern is that with school ending ... that ‘for sure meal’ is lost,” Battaglia said.

Concerns about childhood nutrition in mind, ACCESS is launching a new envelope campaign that seeks to raise $25,000 — enough money to buy 100,000 meals through the nonprofit’s partnership with the Oregon food bank. Addressed envelopes will be included in the Sunday edition of the Mail Tribune, but individuals can also visit accesshelps.org/donate.

Medford School District 549C superintendent Bret Champion shares the concern about childhood nutrition.

“Some kids don’t have a hot meal when they go home,” he said. “There is definitely a need for food security in the Medford school district.”

During the school year, all students have access to free meals that include a scheduled lunch and an optional breakfast. Although the school district plans to roll out a bag lunch program that will be available Mondays through Thursdays this summer at eight yet-to-be-announced sites, Champion acknowledged that "the numbers are not as strong“ as the meals served during the school district.

“Kids still have to get there — that can be a struggle,” he said. “We have a captive audience when kids are in school.”

Champion described child nutrition as “a primal need,” and one critical for academic success.

“If you think about how we feel as adults when we miss lunch ... kids are exactly the same,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons we love our local food pantries.”

Marcee Champion, Bret Champion’s wife, has worked for nonprofit food pantries in the Houston, Texas area and is now ACCESS’ Food Programs Manager.

She said that when a family is struggling financially, food becomes one of the first ways that families cut costs.

“Children don’t have their own ability to get nutritious food,” Marcee Champion said. “They have to rely on other members of their family.”

The nonprofit helps 1 in 4 Jackson County residents every year, and about a third of those 57,000 last year were children, according to numbers provided by Battaglia. The nonprofit distributed 5.5 million pounds of food in 2020, including through 65,000 emergency food boxes.

Marcee Champion and Battaglia each noted that the nonprofit is still helping people in need who were impacted in the Almeda and South Obenchain fires, or who lost work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So many have not recovered from the fires,” Battaglia said. “There are a lot of families who have been left behind.”

Battaglia said that canned food drives are a help, but monetary donations give them buying power to purchase the exact foods they need for the people they serve — especially as they focus on distributing more nutritious, but perishable, foods.

The nonprofit will help any Jackson County resident who meets certain income eligibility. For information and resources call 541-779-6991 or see accesshelps.org.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.