Food banks in Malheur County have seen a surge in demand as high inflation continues to make it harder for people to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, with many people looking for help for the first time, food banks are struggling to keep up with the high demand amid rising utility, fuel and food costs.
The Oregon Food Bank operates in the county out of a warehouse in Ontario and supplies food banks in Nyssa and Vale.
Vale Food Pantry manager Connie Ussing said the food bank saw 50 families a month looking for aid in 2021. This year, she estimates it has gone up to 100.
“Almost every day that we’re open,” Ussing said, “we have at least one or two (new) people.”
According to Ussing, the new faces coming into the Vale Pantry at 252 B St. W. primarily consist of working families and seniors on fixed incomes.
Ussing said with the cost of food up by as much as 20 percent, people have had to cut back on what they spend.
In Nyssa, Food Pantry manager Kathy Oliver said she saw 160 families last month. She said the pantry handed out 200 Thanksgiving Turkey boxes and had to close an hour early because they ran out of food.
According to Oliver and Ussing, who are both unpaid volunteers, regular donors have also had to tighten their belts.
“Many folks have had to make difficult decisions about how they spend their money,” Oliver said.
Oliver said this year, donations have dropped to $200 a month, down from $400 in 2021.
However, she said that the donations have edged up with Thanksgiving approaching. For instance, she noted that this last week, the pantry received a flurry of cash donations of around $2,000.
Not only that, she said, the Boys and Girls Scouts raised $450 and brought in 500 pounds of food last week at their food drive in front of A&W Drive-Thru in Nyssa.
Ussing said Vale had seen a similar downturn in contributions from donors.
“I don’t think even the businesses or individual people have as much money this year,” Ussing said.
In Vale, Ussing said she saw the same generosity from Boy Scout Troop No. 453, which held a food drive and dropped off more than 500 pounds of food.
Ussing and Oliver said that they could both use additional volunteers. They said donations of food or cash are always accepted.
The Vale Pantry is open on Tuesdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and on Thursdays from noon to 3 p.m., while the Nyssa Pantry is open Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Oliver and Ussing encouraged those looking for help to drop in. Oliver said the Nyssa Pantry is a “no judgment zone.”
“We always want to make sure anybody who needs food comes down here and gets food,” Ussing said.
Donations to the Vale Pantry can be sent to PO Box 345, Vale, 97918. Those looking to donate to the Nyssa Pantry can mail them to 415 Main St. Nyssa, 97913.
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