Have we all done enough to help?

It seems that every year about this time we hear a familiar refrain from area food banks: Demand is up and supplies are down. Well, they're not crying wolf.

Demand is not just up, it's up substantially. ACCESS, Inc., which manages local food pantries and programs, saw an 11 percent increase in food requests for the first five months of this fiscal year (July-November) compared with the same five months in 2006. During that time period this year, the agency distributed 16,552 emergency food boxes.

At the same time, the federal government has failed to maintain its level of support. Commodities provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture have dropped by 50 percent in the past four years. For ACCESS, that equates to a loss of more than 300,000 pounds of food.

The increasing demand for food is driven by the same things that affect all of our budgets: gas prices are up, food prices are up, the cost of doing everything is up. But for the large number of working poor, those working at low- or minimum-wage jobs, the price increases can cause more than a pinch in their buying plans — they can cause an outright shutoff.

As people go hungry in communities throughout Jackson County, and all over this nation, Congress and the Bush administration are playing games, desperately trying to make each other look bad. A new farm bill would bolster food supplies for the poor, but it's taken a back seat while the D's and the R's try to make themselves look good for the coming elections.

Even if the farm bill passes, it won't have any effect on families going hungry this winter, as the funds wouldn't be available until later in 2008.

The bottom line is that Washington, D.C. isn't going to provide the answer. It's up to us. Most of us aren't going to bed hungry or getting up in the morning uncertain whether there will be enough to eat. We are in the midst of the Christmas season, worried about getting that last-minute shopping done and stocking up for the onslaught of family coming home for the holidays.

If each of us decided to forego buying just one present and instead made a donation to ACCESS, we could put a big dent in the supply side of the equation. The current Food For Hope drive has a goal of bringing in 25,000 pounds of food and $25,000. At last count it was about three-fourths of the way to both those goals, but holiday food drives traditionally dry up after Christmas, so time is running short to fill the food stocking to the top.

Food for the drive may be dropped off at any fire station, Sherm's Thunderbird, Food 4 Less or the Mail Tribune. Checks may be sent to ACCESS Nutrition Programs, P.O. Box 4666, Medford, OR 97501. ACCESS can turn $1 into five meals, so a $10 or $20 donation can make a real difference.

It is ultimately us who must make the difference in our own communities. In this season of giving and hope, some small acts of charity by each of us can give hope to people who could really use it. If you haven't given, please do. If you have, thank you, and please consider giving just a bit more.

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