Figurative alarm bells are going off at Keizer Community Food Bank (KCFB) as the need is outstripping supply. The food bank experienced an increase of clients by more than 60% in March versus a year ago. The number of clients has increased while the amount of food available to distribute has remained constant.
Jim Johnson, executive director of Keizer’s only food bank, echoes Rick Gaupo, president of Marion Polk Food Share, who said a change in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has driven more clients and households to seek help from the food bank.
Though the amount of food Keizer Community Food Bank distributes has not changed much, the number of people seeking assistance means each person gets less food than in years past.
Gaupo said in early 2020 SNAP participants began receiving a boost to their regular food benefits.
“The added benefits—part of a federal initiative to offset the economic impacts of the pandemic—went a long way toward ensuring people facing food insecurity had enough to eat,” he said.
Those emergency allotments were paid for the last time in February, resulting in about a 40% overall reduction in food benefits for the average Oregon family enrolled in SNAP. About one in six Oregonians participate in the program, and the emergency allotments provided about $95 in extra funds each month for more than 720,000 people statewide.
Keizer Community Food Bank is seeking help from the community by donating non-perishable food items at the bank or use any number of food barrels in Keizer businesses. While food is good, Johnson said that cash donations can go further than cans of food.
“We would like to receive money; that works for us,” said Johnson. “We are not sure what we have until we need to set up for distribution and purchase what we feel completes the food boxes.” They are spending about $1,000 per week for food.
Judi Liechty, assistant manager of the food bank appeared before the Keizer City Council in April to give a report on the current situation. Many community members have opted to join Marion Polk Food Share’s Sustainer Circle, making a monthly financial donation directly from their bank accounts. “Monetary donations are the most effective way to make an impact on hunger in our community,” said Gaupo.
Grocery stores and restaurants regularly donate food to Food Share. During the summer, it also receives donations of fresh produce from local farms. “Generally, the quantities are good to fill the food boxes,” said Johnson, though the mix of produce can be variable. Gaupo said Food Share partners with Salem Harvest to help make sure all their clients have access to fresh healthy produce.
Marion Polk Food Share encourages its partner agencies, such as the Keizer Community Food Bank, to provide clients with a choice of food rather than distribute uniform pre-packaged food boxes. “A shopping-style distribution not only preserves supply and prevents food waste, but allows clients the dignity of choice,” said Gaupo.
An organization works when it has people to do the tasks required. KCFB has a core of volunteers, yet volunteers are needed all the time, even if only for one or two days. The food bank has two labor-intensive preparation events when pallets from the Food Share are unloaded, stored or placed on tables for the clients.
Aside from volunteers, KCFB is always accepting donations of medium-sized boxes. Each distributed food box weighs about 50 pounds.
While demand for food from Keizer Community Food Bank has dramatically increased over the past year, Johnson, Gaupo and Liechty are committed to providing food to those in need.
“The past few years have brought many hardships, including the pandemic, wildfires, extreme weather events, and inflation,” said Gaupo. “Through it all, our neighbors have stood up to say that nobody in our area should have to go hungry.”
To learn more visit keizercommunityfoodbank.org, or marionpolkfoodshare.org.