Dig in

With Thanksgiving in the rear-view mirror, it's time once again to set our sights on the holiday season ahead, and with it the growing need for food in our valley.

The Food for Hope drive, a partnership between the Mail Tribune and ACCESS, got under way Monday with grocery bags included in copies of the Mail Tribune. The demand for food assistance has never been greater.

ACCESS officials say they are seeing families who donated food and cash in past years showing up for help this year.

ACCESS is distributing 27 tons of food every week through its 25 food pantry locations. In August, the nonprofit agency recorded the largest number of households ever served with emergency food boxes: 3,664.

That's not a surprise to anyone keeping track of U.S. Census data on poverty in the United States. In Oregon, nearly 18 percent of families were on Food Stamps in 2010, the Census reported — the highest percentage of any state in the country. That statistic is directly related to the state's top-10 ranking for unemployment, a distinction that doesn't seem likely to change anytime soon.

In 2011, the number of Food Stamp recipients grew by 7 percent. Since 2008, the increase has been 60 percent.

At the same time that need is increasing, federal funding that helps support local relief efforts is dwindling.

ACCESS reports Emergency Food and Shelter Program funds have dropped by 40 percent, meaning $18,000 less the agency has available to purchase food directly from retailers or wholesalers. Food Stamp funding has been cut as well.

So if you are among those who criticize government assistance programs for doing what private charity should be doing, now is the time to turn your convictions into action.

If you need a little inspiration to get involved, look no further than the employees and management of Grange Co-op. Employees at all the Co-op's locations raised more than 3,000 food items to donate to food pantries in Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties, and Grange Co-op matched that effort for a total donation of 6,018 items.

To participate, fill the bag that arrived in Monday's newspaper — or any bag at all — with nonperishable food such as hot and cold cereals, peanut butter, canned meat, soup, vegetables and hygiene items.

Too busy? Cash donations are always welcome, and actually go farther than food donations. ACCESS can purchase $5 worth of food for every dollar donated.

Mail donations to ACCESS Food for Hope, P.O. Box 4666, Medford, OR 97501 or go online to www.accesshelps.org and click the "Donate Now" button on the left side of the page.

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