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East County women battle peanut butter shortage

Food banks need more of the high-protein food

Food banks across the nation are struggling to meet growing demand from an increasingly impoverished and hungry population.

Now, they're facing an additional hurdle: a shortage of peanut butter. With a drought in U.S. peanut-growing states, plus a switch to more lucrative crops such as corn and cotton, the cost of a jar of peanut butter has shot up about 30 percent, according to news reports.

So, that long-standing pantry staple chock full of kid-pleasing protein is becoming a rare and coveted donation at places like the Oregon Food Bank and SnowCap Community Charities.

Enter Susan and McGee and Victoria Davis.

The two East Multnomah County residents just launched a campaign to collect 1,000 jars of peanut butter for SnowCap by the end of January.

Peanut butter can be dropped off in Gresham at Donut World, 720 N.E. Burnside Road, and in Northeast Portland at the Rheinlander and Gustav's, 5035 N.E. Sandy Blvd.

Cash donations that will be used to buy peanut butter can be sent to the Peanut Butter Project, P.O. Box 417, Boring, 97009. Especially generous givers will get a shout out and a Golden Peanut Award on the project's Facebook page, which also includes tips on local sales on peanut butter.

McGee, who recently retired as a sales representative for The Hershey Company, discovered the shortage when she began volunteering for the Oregon Food Bank about a month ago. The food bank used to buy a semi-truck trailer full of peanut butter for $30,000. Now that same load costs $70,000, McGee said.

Meanwhile, distribution of emergency food boxes in Oregon and southwest Washington topped 1 million during the 2011 fiscal year ending in June. That's a 12-percent jump in demand.

End result: Fewer kids with bellies full of PB and J sandwiches.

'One jar of peanut butter will feed a child for 10 days or more, and it's a good source of calories and protein,' McGee said.

So she teamed with her energetic cousin, Victoria, and the two launched their peanut butter drive. It may seem a little nutty, she admits, but the two felt compelled to try to help.

'If you ask a person specifically for an item, 99 percent of the people will help,' McGee said.

So far, the two have collected about 125 jars that are taking over McGee's living room and garage. And her former employer - the chocolate empire - is getting in on the peanut butter fun with a pledge to donate.

Perhaps some jars of Hershey's very own Reese's Peanut Butter will be coming to a food bank near you.