Local food deficit climbs

The Salvation Army will give out bags filled with Thanksgiving food this afternoon to many local families who are more worried about eating every day than about enjoying a sumptuous holiday meal.

The number of people requesting food assistance from the organization at Thanksgiving has increased by 90 percent, climbing from 346 people in 2007 to 657 people in 2008, said Jackie Agee, development director. It's not only the number of people that's changing, but also their backgrounds.

"We are seeing people who never, ever thought they'd be in this position," Agee said. "We are calling them 'the newly disadvantaged.' "

Registration for the Thanksgiving food began in Oct. 27 and ended Nov. 17. Recipients were required to show proof of residence, income and their registration in order to qualify for a food bag, she said.

"Most people bring in their Oregon Health Plan bills, or stubs from unemployment checks, or their Oregon Trail food card," Agee said, adding the volunteers are requiring proof of residence as well.

"We want to make sure they aren't homeless. Because this is food that has to be cooked and prepared," said Agee.

Food for the holiday meal, which includes turkeys, stuffing, potatoes and fresh fruit, has been donated by local businesses and individuals. Since all of the recipients were pre-screened, there will be enough to go around.

"People sometimes worry that if they don't get there and be first in line, they won't get anything. But we're making sure the last box is as good as the first," Agee said.

Businesses including Sherm's Food-4-Less, Les Schwab, Wal-Mart and others have been generous. But the need has almost doubled for the holiday bags. And weekly requests for food bags has risen from 110 to 150, Agee said.

"Food stamps haven't gone up. People use them up and still need to have food through the end of the month," Agee said.

Not all of the food in the holiday boxes has been donated. Some has been purchased by the Salvation Army, she said. The organization normally allocates $24,000 per year for food, but this year spent $40,000. The funding difference has cut into other programs, such as those that provide help purchasing prescription drugs or offer energy assistance to low income people, Agee said.

Agee is worried about what will happen after the giving holiday spirit has ended, but the need remains.

"We're very concerned," she said. "We're going to be applying for grants. Because we think this (hunger) problem is going to continue for awhile."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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