November/December 2005 Living Now
Food or Rent?
Stark choices aided by The Oregon Food Bank Network
"In the midst of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the earthquake
in Pakistan, were seeing catastrophe at a magnitude weve
never seen before. Yet, here in Oregon and Clark County, Wash., one
in five people ate meals from an emergency food box at least once last
year," said Rachel Bristol, executive director of the Oregon Food
Bank. "They are children, senior citizens on fixed incomes, people
who are disabled and people who work hard at low-paying jobs. This is
a huge problem right in our own backyard that is mostly invisible."
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Oregon remains among
the 10 worst states in the nation in hunger. Each month, an average
of 194,000 people (of which 38 % were children) ate meals from an emergency
food box in Oregon and Clark County, Wash. In addition, 170 soup kitchens
and shelters provided 4-million emergency meals and 362 other agencies
helped more than 128,000 people at senior centers, day care centers
and other low-income programs.
This years statistics also show a major change in the mix of
food to the Oregon Food Bank Network. The amount of food that OFB receives
from the U.S. Department of Agricultures surplus commodities program
dropped 21 percent to 9-million pounds.
"Fortunately, our food industry partners stepped up to fill the
gap," said Bristol.
The food industry provided more than 38-million pounds of food
a 13 percent increase. Of the 60.8-million total pounds of food that
the OFB Network distributed during fiscal year 2004-05, 63 percent came
from the food industry, 15 percent from USDA, 14 percent from food drives
and 8 percent was purchased.
"Oregon and Clark County, Wash., continue to face an overwhelming
state of hunger and food insecurity even though an estimated 43 percent
of households needing help have at least one working member," says
But a minimum, part-time or low-wage job doesnt provide enough
for the high-cost basics housing, fuel, utilities and medical
care. Few people who receive emergency food boxes even if they
work full time have health insurance.
According to a study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition,
Oregons affordable housing wage is $13.59 an hour in Oregon. So
a worker making the current minimum wage of $7.25 would have to work
84 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom unit. The Department of Housing
and Urban Development consistently describes affordable housing as rent
or mortgage payments equal to no more than 30 percent of a familys
income. Yet, 51 percent of emergency food box recipients spent half
or more of their income on housing.
The Oregon Food Bank Network is a cooperative statewide coalition of
20 regional food banks working to eliminate hunger and its root causes.
Oregon Food Bank equitably distributes food from corporate, community
and government sources throughout this network. Regional food banks
distribute this food and additional resources from local donations to
more than 894 programs serving low-income people in their communities.
Seventeen of these regional food banks are independent nonprofit organizations.
Oregon Food Bank directly operates the other three.