Marion-Polk Food Share is imagining no hunger.

And in recognizing hunger has no season, they’re looking to expand their Sustainer Circle – a group of donors who agree to automatic monthly donations.

The challenge is daunting: An average of 6,500 families a month are using emergency food boxes in the two counties, up 15 percent from 2009 and 27 percent from 2008. One out of five people in the two counties used a food box in the past year, organizers said.

Dick Withnell is campaign chair, and talked about how hunger could affect anyone in a kickoff event last week at Salem’s Mission Mill Museum.

Withnell said it was luck alone that allowed attendees to live in Salem instead of an impoverished nation.

“Ponder this – it’s just by the grace of God that we’re here,” Withnell said. “There are people who are hungry tonight.”

MPFS President Ron Hays noted the non-profit’s evolution from a small operation on Front Street to practically bursting at the seams at their building on Salem Industrial Drive.

“Marion Polk Food Share has grown to meet the community’s needs,” he said.

One aspect of the food share’s mission, he said, was helping people to help themselves. In Salem alone the non-profit coordinated about 20 acres of community gardens.

Salem Mayor Janet Taylor noted her own at-times hard-won raising when her father left the family. Her mother was deaf and couldn’t work, and they at times relied on boxes of surplus federal government food.

Not much fresh stuff at the time – dried eggs, peanut butter, cheese and the like.

Luckily, her mom “was a great cook.”

MPFS, she said, “is using food to help people be empowered to help themselves” with help learning how to best shop, improving cooking skills and tips on making the most out of emergency food boxes.

“We could be helping the next business owner, teacher, minister or community leader,” she said.

The Collins Foundation has agreed to match up to $75,000 in contributions.

For more information on joining the Sustainer Circle visit