"Requests for emergency food stubbornly continue to climb," said Janeen Wadsworth, interim CEO of Oregon Food Bank. "Unemployment isn't the only driver of this unprecedented need. Underemployment and limited benefits have forced people with jobs to seek emergency food. And the high cost of food, gas, utilities and rent makes it even more difficult for families to cover basic expenses."
Requests for emergency food climbed in almost every corner of Oregon as well as Clark County, Wash. Regional food banks with the highest increases included: Clatsop Regional Food Bank in Astoria, 28 percent; Community Connection in La Grande, 14 percent; Marion-Polk Food Share in Salem, 25 percent; UCAN Food Share in Roseburg, 15 percent; and OFB-Metro Services, serving Clackamas and Multnomah counties, 13 percent; and Clark County, Wash., 11 percent.
"The downturn in the local economy has brought many new faces from all walks of life to receive services for the first time in their lives. We now distribute more than double the amount of food from just five years ago," said Marlin Martin, director of CCA Food Bank in Clatsop County. "Distribution of emergency food in our county continues at a disturbingly high rate at a time when acquiring resources is more challenging than ever."
CCA Regional Food Bank distributed 20,254 emergency food boxes to families within the local food bank network. In an average month, an estimated 5,028 local people ate meals from emergency food boxes from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012. In addition, congregate meal sites in Clatsop County served another 216,700 meals during the last fiscal year.
CCA Regional Food Bank Network distributed a record braking total of 1,228,190 pounds through 36 local agencies in Clatsop County.
5,635 backpacks, filled with food were delivered to school children in Clatsop County. This food helps supplement meals over the weekend, when school breakfast and lunches are not available to them.
The CCA Regional Food Bank has launched an initiative called “Food Bank Fresh”. This initiative strongly supports our distribution of fresh meat, fish, fruits and vegetables vs. canned products. We provide nutritional education and training to our Partner Agencies upon request. We are committed to providing healthier food choices for those individuals seeking emergency food assistance.
Oregon's poverty rate is growing, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's most recent data. More than a half-million Oregonians (553,000) now live below the poverty rate: $23,050 for a family of four. And one in five Oregonians participate in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps).
USDA commodities drop
At the same time that lines at food pantries continued to grow, USDA commodities to food banks in Oregon dropped almost 60 percent - from 18 million to 8.5 million pounds - during the last fiscal year.
"To make up the difference and to provide for the growing need during our last fiscal year, OFB dipped into its reserve fund for the first time to purchase more food for distribution," said Wadsworth.
"The OFB Network is blessed with tremendous support from individuals and businesses throughout Oregon and beyond," said Wadsworth. "Even so, our network is straining to meet the unprecedented requests for emergency food. The proposed cuts to SNAP (included in the farm bill) would greatly increase the number of Oregonians seeking emergency food and would simply overwhelm our network. We are doing our part. Congress must also do its part and adequately fund SNAP.
"We know we can only meet the staggering need for emergency food with the help of the entire community and through strong public-private partnerships," she said. "We ask for your continued support as we work to eliminate hunger and its root causes."
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* Learn more www.oregonfoodbank.org.
* Write your U.S. Senator or Representative and tell them we need to maintain SNAP.