Written by Albany Tribune
September 19, 2012
For the second year in a row, distribution of emergency food boxes in Oregon and southwest Washington topped 1million.
“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.”
The Oregon Food Bank Network distributed 1,124,000 emergency food boxes – a 10 percent increase over the previous year – to families in need in Oregon and Clark County, Wash., from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012. A typical emergency food box contains a three-to-five day supply of groceries. On average, recipient households turn to pantries about four times a year.
In an average month, an estimated 270,000 people in Oregon and Clark County, Wash., ate meals from emergency food boxes provided by Network pantries. Of those, almost 92,000 were children.
Since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008, food box distribution has increased 41 percent. The OFB Network now distributes about 350,000 more food boxes annually than it did before the recession.
In addition, OFB Network soup kitchens served 4 million meals during the past year.
And 93,000 people received supplemental food through other OFB Network agencies and programs, such as low-income day-care centers, free farmers’ markets and senior centers.
Altogether, the Oregon Food Bank Network of 20 regional food banks and 945 partner agencies provided a record 83.4 million pounds of food – equivalent to more than 2,000 semi-truck loads. This translates to about 64 million meals.
“The collaboration and common purpose of the OFB Network were key to providing an all-time high level of emergency food support,” said Wadsworth. “We’re also proud of the combined work of state agencies, nonprofits and volunteers to enroll eligible families in SNAP – the first defense against hunger. Those combined efforts helped Oregon hold the line on its food insecurity and hunger rates in 2011 even while Oregon’s poverty rate grew. Everyone who contributed to these efforts in one way or another helped make a big difference, and we thank you.”
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 rates at a time when acquiring resources is more challenging than ever.”
The most rural areas of Oregon have been hit particularly hard. Oregon Food Bank’s Southeast Oregon Services branch in Ontario, which distributes food to agencies in Malheur and Harney counties, experienced record demand fueled by slow economic recovery across the region, according to Peter Lawson, branch services manager.
“To meet this need, we started a mobile pantry to serve the small community of Annex, Ore.; started a Harvest Share program to distribute fresh fruits and vegetables in the remote rural areas of Arock and Jordan Valley; and began regular food deliveries to partner agencies, some as far as 130 miles away from our warehouse,” Lawson said.
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.