Sept. 20, 2022 — The numbers of people coming to Florence Food Share are up.
“Significantly,” Florence Food Share Executive Director Colin Morgan said. “Times are tough. Right now an average day for us is 40 or 50 families, and 300 unique families a month.”
The average family is 2.75 individuals, which translates to over 3,000 people a year served.
“And that ranges from folks who are having a really tight month, in between jobs, to an individual who’s on social security. There are folks who use us just once a year when times are tough, and others use us frequently throughout the year. All are welcome,” Morgan said.
The executive director stressed that Florence Food Share has ample supply to support the need, and programs in delivering food to people have exceeded expectations. The food share also received financial help from a Lane County grant that will considerably help its bottom line.
But the increasing numbers are staggering. August use broke records, with Florence Food Share distributing 979 boxes of food, going to more than 400 families.
“During the pandemic, we saw our numbers dip, actually,” Morgan pointed out. “Folks had a significant amount of government aid.”
While the aid dried up, the need for services didn’t.
“You have a lot of seniors and a lot of families who don’t have that government aid anymore that are coming in,” Morgan said. “We’re getting a lot of folks who never utilize services, utilizing them for the first time. At the same time, people who previously needed assistance are using food share more frequently.”
And the people are coming in from all over the Siuslaw region. While the majority of Florence Food Share clients live in Florence, Dunes City makes up a large portion, as do upriver community members. Morgan praised the neighboring Mapleton Food Share for its offerings, and stated the program does everything it can to be available to people.
“They have a number on their door to get assistance at any time,” he said. “But sometimes it’s easier if you work in Florence to just go into Florence Food Share.”
The motivations to use food share are complex.
“Minimum wage might be going up, but gas prices went up a lot faster. And folks that are on Social Security aren’t seeing minimum wage go up,” Morgan said. “Employers are only able to employ people at part time, and not give them the full time because the benefits would bankrupt them. Folks are working multiple part-time jobs, which not only stresses out mom and dad, but it doesn’t bring in the kind of money that you would have with really good quality, full-time jobs.”
Gas prices have gone up, which is particularly difficult for those who commute to work. It also raises prices at the grocery stores.
“That means all of these little things you’d never think of are getting so much more expensive,” Morgan said.
And rising rates in the rental and mortgage market have made food insecurity even more tenacious.
“Rent and house payments are massive reasons people are here,” Morgan said. “If the decision you’re making is, ‘Do I skip meals, or pay rent to have a roof over my head,’ the answer is ‘yes,’ you’re going to skip meals. But then you don’t have the energy to succeed. Employees aren’t as effective, which means that businesses need more folks to do the same jobs.”
This creates trickle down effects. Employees, exhausted from work and hunger, begin to withdraw from the community.
“Hunger is a real linchpin to the entire economy,” Morgan said.
But helping to lessen hunger is a balancing act.
“You always want people to utilize services, and you want to make sure that they are able to get services,” Morgan said. “But at the same token, we’re not trying to keep people in this position. We’re hoping that anything that we do will help them fulfill their needs in the communities, and be members of that community. Our goal is not to make a problem, it’s to get help with a problem.”
Part of that goal is making it easier for people to obtain food. Morgan touted the “Rides United” program, through United Way, which allows community members to have food delivered by DoorDash.
“So far, it’s been successful. There’s around 30 folks who utilize it weekly, and that doesn’t count those who rotate periodically,” said Morgan. “It grew much faster than anticipated.”
More recently, it's pushing the Florence Food Project. Green bags have been distributed throughout the community, with emphasis on churches, to be filled with non-perishable food items for the pantry. The bags are picked up every one or two weeks.
And Florence Food Share has received help for its own operations, with the recent awarding of a $25,000 grant from Lane County, taken from funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The grant is equivalent to around 10 percent of the food share’s annual budget.
“It’s going to help us continue to operate — keep the lights on, keep the truck running, picking up food,” Morgan said. “It’s going to keep people working here to make this vision happen. It’s more effective for us to accomplish the mission when we’re not having to spend as much time fighting for every operational dollar. So it makes a big impact when these types of funding opportunities come up.”
The grant is particularly vital for the food share as people typically don’t like to donate for operational expenses.
“A lot of folks and donors, big and small, don’t like to fund operations,” Morgan said. “They think, ‘Oh, it’s going to some bigwig’s paycheck.’ But that’s really not the case with Florence Food Share.”
Instead of donating cash, people tend to donate food, knowing that it will go directly to people.
“And we love that, we appreciate it, and it’s awesome — but it takes a lot to get the food from the store to the plate. There’s a lot of things that have to happen to get them there,” Morgan said.
Essentially, Florence Food Share is a grocery store, and with it comes all the costs.
“You have a lot of bills,” Morgan said. “You have insurance, you have to make sure that your dry goods facilities have good quality siding and roofing.”
There’s truck maintenance to get the food from the stores to the food share.
“And then we have to get it into the warehouse, process it, get it refrigerated,” Morgan said. “That’s another bill — you have to make sure you have the refrigeration and the maintenance on those appliances.”
And when Florence Food Share sees increases in clients, it introduces additional financial stress beyond keeping the shelves stocked.
“When you're busier, you're moving more products through, you have more staff time taken to make sure folks are okay, because you have more folks coming in,” Morgan said. “Take refrigeration. When you're stressed, it takes longer to make decisions, which means you have doors open longer, which means energy bills go up.”
And there’s more staff time involved with helping people.
“Folks that you’re serving need more assistance with that service than when you’re quieter,” Morgan explained. “When you’re quieter, there’s not as much of a panic in the community, so there’s more staff time for de-escalation to help folks get into the services so that you try to alleviate that stress.”
And it’s unclear how long that community stress will last, as the issues facing Food Share clients are so varied.
“People are seeing the crunch. They’re worried, they’re concerned, they’re nervous,” Morgan said. “If this trend keeps continuing or increasing, there’s going to be a tipping point where the economy can no longer sustain. Employers will be cutting back significant portions of their employee base, and we’re going to be in real trouble. That would be my biggest concern right now.”
Despite that, Florence Food Share clients are hopeful.
“They lived through the recession in 2008 and are hopeful they can get through,” Morgan said. “My hope and goal is that food share can do the best it can to ease people’s worries. We have to be reminding ourselves that the world is really great. We have clean air, we have running water, we have food. Even with all the doom and gloom, we’re in a very privileged position.”
To help alleviate economic pressure, Morgan suggested that people focus on shopping local, to keep the money in the community.
“Another big part is saving what you can and being prepared for things to get worse — but hoping that they’re not,” Morgan said.
But most importantly, Morgan stressed the importance of community unity.
“The Florence community can do an awful lot, when it puts its mind to it,” he said. “We need to hunker down and do what Florence does best - which is stick together.”
For more information on Florence Food Share, and to donate, visit florencefoodshare.org. To take part in the Florence Food Project, call 541-997-9110.