Increase Food Security in Oregon

 
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Long-term unemployment, persistent underemployment, inadequate SNAP benefits and the high cost of food, gasoline, utilities and rent are the leading reasons people seek emergency food, according to the 2012 biennial Hunger Factors Assessment released this month by the Oregon Food Bank Network of Regional Food Banks.

The OFB Network of Regional Food Banks conducts the Hunger Factors Assessment (HFA) every two years. This year, 4,599 emergency-food recipients at 162 pantries in Oregon and Clark County, Wash., completed the survey. 

The survey shows the poorest of the poor are getting poorer. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (61 percent) reported a drop in monthly income during the past two years. Nearly, 75 percent reported incomes below the federal poverty line (gross income of $23,050 for a family of four).

“We were faithful donors to the food pantry before we went down to a one-person income. Thank you for helping us during this difficult time,” said one survey respondent.

“We’ve lost our business, our work, our home and have sold our stuff. God help us if things don’t change,” another survey respondent said.

“Political candidates on both sides of the aisle tell us what they’ll do for the middle class. But we hear little about what they’ll do to help those who live in poverty,” said Janeen Wadsworth, interim CEO of Oregon Food Bank. “The Hunger Factors Assessment paints a vivid picture of who is hungry and why. Once families have lost their jobs, their savings and their homes, it can take years for them to get back on their feet again.”

For the second year in a row, the Oregon Food Bank Network distributed more than one million (1,117,673) emergency food boxes from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012. That’s a 9 percent increase over the previous year.

“We are seeing more and more families with children who are working yet still struggle to feed their families due to the rising cost of living,” said Captain Dwayne Patterson, Salvation Army – Moore Street, one of the 162 pantries that participated in the survey.

“Food is a basic human need. It is unconscionable that more than a third of those eating meals from emergency food boxes are children. Congress must adequately fund SNAP. Underfunding these programs would cause irreparable harm to low-income people, particularly children,” Wadsworth stated.

4,599 survey respondents speak out

When asked: “What happened to bring you to a food pantry?”

• More than half (56 percent) of the respondents said they ran out of SNAP benefits (“food stamps”). That compares to 50 percent in 2010.

• Almost half (48 percent) of the respondents cited high food cost as one reason they needed emergency food, compared to 44 percent in 2010.

“SNAP limits need to be raised to adjust for higher food costs,” wrote one respondent.

“The cost of food has gone up, but the amount of SNAP stays the same,” stated another respondent.

• 40 percent cited high gasoline costs, a sharp jump from 29 percent in 2010.

“Gas and health care are too expensive,” one respondent wrote.

• 27 percent said long-term unemployment forced them to seek emergency food, compared
to 22 percent in 2008, before the recession.

“We’ve been unemployed more than two years. We keep applying. There are jobs, but we haven’t had luck getting them. Please tell elected officials the recession isn’t over yet,” said a survey respondent.

• About a fifth (18 percent) report they need help because their wages are too low.

“If we had better jobs, we wouldn’t need to ask for something as basic as food,” wrote one respondent.

“I have a bachelor’s degree and have been looking for work for 2.2 years. The only work I’ve found is for low wages,” wrote another respondent.

“Many jobs don’t pay enough to cover the basics,” stated another.

• And a quarter of respondents cited high rent or mortgage.

“The 2012 Hunger Factors Assessment results clearly show the continuing fallout of the massive job losses caused by the recession and the need for adequate support for SNAP,” said Wadsworth. “Congress’s proposed cuts to SNAP would greatly increase the number of Oregonians seeking emergency food and would simply overwhelm our network.”

The bright spot:

The one bright spot of the survey shows that even though the hole is deep, some people are beginning to dig out. Households reporting at least one member with a full-time job increased from 22 percent in 2010 to 27 percent in 2012.  

Together we can help those in need byacquiring and distributing emergency food boxes.  Thank you for your continued support.

Susannah Morgan
Susannah Morgan

Oregon Food Bank’s Board of Directors has appointed Susannah Morgan, executive director of Food Bank of Alaska, as CEO of Oregon Food Bank, effective Nov. 5, 2012. The OFB Board selected Morgan after a thorough national search, following the retirement of Rachel Bristol, June 30.

“Susannah brings 13 years of extensive experience in the nonprofit sector and strong leadership in food-banking in the national arena,” said Arnie Gardner, chair, OFB Board of Directors. “She has the passion, vision and skills to build on OFB’s successes and to move OFB forward during a time of tremendous need and opportunity. We are thrilled to welcome her to Oregon Food Bank and look forward to introducing her to our community.”

Oregon’s hunger rate remains high, but begins to budge 

Good news in jeopardy as SNAP cuts loom in Congress

PORTLAND, Ore., (September 5, 2012) – While Oregon’s hunger rate remains high, it’s finally beginning to budge in the right direction – down, according to the Household Food Security in the United States report, released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Oregon’s hunger rate rose during the Great Recession as did the rate of many other states,” said Mark Edwards, associate professor of sociology, Oregon State University School of Public Policy. “Though our improvement last year was small, under the harsh conditions of the Great Recession, we avoided getting worse. And that’s good news.”

Oregon’s hunger rate decreases slightly
The USDA measures food insecurity every year through a series of up to 18 survey questions that ask U.S. households about their ability to obtain enough food for an active, healthy life for all members.

• About 13.6 percent of households in Oregon – more than 491,000 Oregonians – equivalent to the entire population of Marion and Polk counties -- suffered food insecurity in 2009-2011. That means they lacked consistent access to adequate amounts of nutritious food. That compares to 13.7 percent during the 2008-10 period.

• About 5.9 percent of households in Oregon – more than 213,000 individuals – equivalent to 11 packed Rose Garden Arenas – suffered very low food security – also known as hunger – in 2009-2011. They ate less, skipped meals or sometimes went without food for entire days. That compares to the 6.1 percent rate for 2008-10. 

How we did it

“Oregon’s ability to hold the line on food insecurity rates in 2011 reflects the efforts of both the private and the public sector to fight hunger on all fronts,” said Patti Whitney-Wise, executive director, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon. “Oregon is fortunate to have a statewide plan to address hunger. Ending Hunger Before it Begins: Oregon’s Call to Action, shows that collaborative efforts do make a difference.”

“Also key was the collaboration and common purpose of the Oregon Food Bank Network that distributed more than 80 million pounds of food throughout Oregon and Clark County, Washington … an all-time high level of emergency food support,” said Janeen Wadsworth, interim CEO, Oregon Food Bank.

“We’re particularly proud of the combined work of state agencies, nonprofits and volunteers to enroll eligible families in SNAP – the first line of defense against hunger,” she said. “One in five Oregonians participate in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps).”

Progress in jeopardy
“While that progress is worth applauding, it’s all in jeopardy if the proposed cuts to SNAP looming in Congress become reality,” Wadsworth noted.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” she said. “Once families lose their jobs, savings and homes, it can take years to get back on their feet again. Moreover, the high cost of food, gas, utilities and rent is making it even more difficult to cover basic expenses.”

“SNAP is the only targeted government program we have that provides food dollars to all members of families with low incomes,” said Whitney-Wise. “During the recession, we saw SNAP participation increase in Oregon, reflecting the critical need for food resources. SNAP is vital for millions of Americans.”

“The only way to adequately address hunger in the U.S. is through strong private and public partnerships,” Wadsworth said. “The Oregon Food Bank Network is blessed with tremendous support from Oregonians and businesses throughout Oregon and beyond. Even so, our network is straining to meet the unprecedented demand 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 do its part and adequately fund SNAP,” she urged.

The report
To report food insecurity in each state, USDA uses data from a three-year period to compensate for limited sample sizes and to better estimate the number of households experiencing hunger. Thus, the state data include people’s experience with hunger from January 2009 through December 2011.

Compared to past years
“Oregon’s hunger rate jumped between 2003 and 2007 – from 4 percent to 6.6 percent -- but then remained steady – in the low 6s – while the U.S. rate has steadily increased over that time,” Edwards stated. “Oregon’s hunger and food insecurity rates now more closely resemble the rates for the U.S. as a whole, but this is because the conditions in the rest of the country in the past few years deteriorated to an even greater degree than in Oregon, bringing the national numbers closer to Oregon’s high numbers.”

Summary
“We continue to see evidence of the struggles facing many people in our state,” said Whitney-Wise. “Teachers see kids in their classroom regularly come to school hungry as shown in a report released by Share Our Strength in August. Hungry students lack concentration and struggle with poor academic performance, behavioral problems and health issues. We should celebrate our success in weathering the recent economic storm, but we must continue our efforts to prevent hunger before it begins and protect our safety net for those need it.”

“Congress must do its part to protect our nation’s safety net against deficit cutting measures,” said Wadsworth, “There is a reason that every bipartisan deficit reduction plan until now has kept food assistance programs, such as SNAP, intact and protected from cuts. Weakening these programs would cause irreparable harm to low-income people, particularly children.”

How to help:

• Write your U.S. Senator or Representative now and tell them we need to maintain SNAP
• Read Oregon’s plan, Ending Hunger Before it Begins, at www.oregonhunger.org
• Donate funds.
• Donate food.
• Volunteer.
• Visit www.oregonfoodbank.org or www.oregonhunger.org for more ways to help.

Key national highlights.
According to USDA’s Household Food Security in the United States, 2011, report:
• 17.9 million (14.9 percent) households in America suffered food insecurity. In 2010, 17.2 million households (14.5 percent) were considered food insecure.
• 6.8 million (5.7 percent) American households suffered very low food security (also known as hunger). This compares to 5.4 percent in 2010.
• 3.9 million (10 percent) American households with children were food insecure. This compares to 9.8 percent in 2010.

Access the full report at: www.ers.usda.gov

Recently. I completed a grant application that requested an outline of how WE are working collaboratively in the non-profit realm to achieve our mission. This process gave me the chance to reflect on the three simple words in the title of one of our GlobalGiving projects: Hunger.Hope.Help.

The rate of food insecurity continues to rise in Oregon. But with the support of a strong community, we continue to be hopeful. Financial support allows us to purchase food to balance the nutrition of an emergency food box. And as the cost to meet the overwhelming demand continues to rise, we are grateful for your continued donations of support.

With limited resources and the sheer quantity of non-profit organizations in Oregon, the question is valid and strategic. I readily answered the funder's question, which reinforced my own belief that by supporting our efforts, we will eliminate hunger and its root causes.

Here are some recent highlights of the collaborative work done by departments at OFB and the community:

Fresh Alliance, an OFB partnership with local grocery stores, recently celebrated 10 years of work. The Fresh Alliance program works with grocery stores to collect food that is past the "sell-by" date but still "useable." This collaboration is a win/win for retailers and OFB. The Oregon Food Bank Network gets highly nutritious product and grocers reduce their waste costs. The past 10 years efforts have provided nearly 33 million pounds of food for the Network!

A major bill that Gov. Kitzhaber recently signed, HB 4068, will allow Oregon food banks to distribute fresh-caught salmon that otherwise might be thrown away. Known as "bycatch," the law applies to fish that are caught incidentally when commercial fishing boats haul in species other than the ones they are going after. Typically, that means salmon caught while fishing for whiting, according to Mike Moran, OFB food resource manager. "In a good year, it could mean 20 to 30 tons of fish -- 160,000 servings getting out to people," Moran said.

Locally, Oregon Food Bank's Learning Garden Program has been taking advantage of a new greenhouse that was built at the headquarters in NE Portland. Plant starts grown in the greenhouse are being distributed to low-income residents at farmer's markets. These seed starts, if planted and harvested, will provide over 6,000 pounds of fresh produce to food-insecure residents.

And lastly, when a community comes together to discuss how it can build a healthier, more sustainable food system, amazing things happen. Relationships with local growers flourish. Backyard gardens and new farmers markets sprout. And neighbors learn that, by working together, they can create a stronger local food system that takes advantage of the resources within their community.

For nearly two years, through our Food-Education-Agriculture-Solutions-Together (FEAST) program, Oregon Food Bank has worked to promote more equitable and resilient food systems. The program has engaged and educated Oregonians across the state with informed, facilitated discussions about the role food and agricultural resources play in their communities. OFB held its first FEAST event in Cannon Beach in September of 2009. Since then, nine additional communities across Oregon have held events with 50 to 60 community members participating in each session

We continue to collaborate, ask tough questions and work towards our mission: To eliminate hunger and its root causes... because no one should be hungry. Thank you for your support -- we could not do what we do without you!

Links:

Thank you for supporting Oregon Food Bank.  The annual voices project has been published and I wanted to share it with you.

The real faces of food insecurity in Oregon are hundreds of thousands of our neighbors who struggle invisibly every day. In Tillamook, a mother only pretends to eat at dinnertime and tells her daughter that the big meals she sees on TV are make-believe. In La Pine, an unemployed construction superintendent attends a suicide intervention training for volunteers at the community kitchen and pantry. A veteran from Ontario says a mayonnaise sandwich tastes pretty good if you’re hungry.

Stories like these show the toll that hunger takes on the 260,000 households that receive emergency food boxes from partner agencies throughout the Oregon Food Bank Network every month. The goal of Oregon Food Bank’s annual Voices project is to bring attention to the stories of individuals who receive emergency food. In October of 2011, 49 people attended Voices focus groups in Florence, La Pine, Portland, Roseburg, Shady Cove, Silverton and Tillamook. Seven people also shared their stories with us through video interviews in Ontario.

We sincerely appreciate the honesty and courage of those who shared their experiences with us. Stories about their lives provide valuable insight and help us better accomplish our mission to eliminate hunger and its root causes … because no one should be hungry.

To learn more go to http://www.oregonfoodbank.org/About-Us/Voices

Links:

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Sarah Schirmer

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Portland, OR United States

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