During each holiday season Americans, for whom hunger is not an issue, become more generous and donate food or money to food banks and local food drives.
Donations to our local food banks are taking on an increased urgency this season. More families are relying on food banks to put nutritious meals on their tables. None of us want to imagine ourselves sitting down to a meager meal, not to mention other families with children.
Benefit increases to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that were part of President Obama’s stimulus plan several years ago have ended. Families who are on SNAP will receive the same benefits they did before; though the inflation rate is low overall, food prices have not been stagnant.
Many people think that when people use food stamps (SNAP) they are on it forever. That is not universally true; for many, SNAP and food banks are temporary bridges that help during times of need. Too many people go hungry through no fault of their own—loss of employment, decreased labor hours, unexpected expenses that cut into food budgets. Families who wouldn’t have at least one nutritious meal a day without help should not be pitied or criticized. They don’t want to have to accept free food anymore than any of us.
The hunger problem is especially acute in Marion County. Keizer residents may not always know which of their neighbors are in need; it’s not something proud Americians like to talk about. A person driving through Keizer would be excused for thinking that our city is doing all right, they see sizable homes and vehicles and nice amenities.
The reality can be found in our schools. A large number of children in our elementary, middle and high schools are eligible for reduced price or free meals. That means those children are food insecure meaning they don’t have three meals a day and some wouldn’t eat at all if it weren’t for the school food programs.
To augment meals taken at school families in need visit the local food banks including Keizer Community Food Bank. The need is growing. Four thousand four hundred more families sought food assistance from Marion Polk Food Share and its nearly 100 food charity partners. That’s why pantry shelves at food banks quickly go bare. Almost 8 million pounds of food crossed the docks at Marion Polk Food Share last year, 5.7 million pounds were donated by growers, manufacturers, retailers and food drives.
Marion County has the highest level of child poverty in Oregon. In 2011 25,000 county children were living in poverty; almost 40,000 children were being assisted by SNAP food stamps.
Keizer Community Food Bank fills its shelves each month with donations from the public and from food drives. The bulk of Keizer’s food comes from Marion Polk Food Share itself. A visit and tour of Marion Polk Food Share is a real eye-opener. One sees a large warehouse stacked to the ceiling with boxes and boxes of non-perishable food items; the freezer is stuffed. There is a constant flow of food coming in and going right out again to the food pantries around the region.
Ameicans and Keizerites are a generous people. The Keizer Network of Women’s annual Christmas Basket program gathers toys and food to serve 139 families. Members of Keizer Elks collect and give out food to families as do the staff and volunteers at Marion County Fire District #1. As a community we gather thousands and thousands of pounds of food during the holidays.
Many people work hard throughout the year to alleviate hunger in our area but the problem lingers. As a community we must continue to work to lessen food insecurity without judgement but with a generous heart.