EUGENE, Ore. – The amount of people in Lane County seeking food assistance in Lane County shot up by 30% in 2023, according to the local non-profit food organization Food for Lane County.
The data they use to track food assistance demand reveals Lane County has a higher demand for food assistance than the national average. Around 13.2% of people in Lane County seek food assistance, compared to the national average of 11%.
Rebecca Sprinson is the director of development for Food for Lane County, and she said there are many factors to blame. Those include the cut back of pandemic-era programs, inflation and high grocery prices. She said it can get worse for families facing food insecurity as colder weather approaches.
“In the winter when things get cold, heating bills go up and there are some things that are just non-negotiable. But families try to flex where they can,” she said. “That’s where they start relying on less nutritious foods, or serving smaller meals or portions or parents foregoing food so their children have something to eat. So yes, all those pressures combine we knew this would be a holiday season where we need the community to step up.”
She said Food for Lane County has over 150 partnerships with organizations and businesses to set up meal pantries, meal sites and food donation drop offs. As expansive as this system is, it has still not been enough this year. According to Sprinson, Food for Lane County has been purchasing more large quantities of food which is rare for the non-profit which historically has relied on food donations to keep up with demand.
All of these pressures also have an implication for children. The state of Oregon has a childhood hunger rate of 12.5% according to data provided by Food for Lane County. Sprinson said the rate of child food insecurity in Lane County is likelier higher than the national average as well.
“We measure that by kids who qualify for free or reduced lunch programs at school, and we work hard to make sure kids are getting healthy food that supports their growing and learning,” she said.
The number of kids in Lane County who qualify for free or reduced meals in schools in 2023, according to the organization, was 51 percent in 2023.
Sprinsin said they knew earlier this year that this upcoming holiday season would be especially hard for those in need of help.
“We track a number of different data sources that help us plan whats to come in our community with the pandemic era benefits that ended, we knew families would start feeling the pinch,” she said.
She said the best way to help out this season is to give back by donating foods at any of their drop off locations or monetary donations in-person at their organization’s Eugene address as well as online which can be found here
Aaron Arellano joined KEZI 9 News as a news reporter in September of 2023. If you have a story idea for Aaron, you can email him at [email protected].