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Folks on edge need our help

Editorial

Even as most Portland-area residents pause this week to be grateful for what they have - and to indulge in the plenty that surrounds them - the needs of the less fortunate in this community are exploding.

The increasing severity of the nation's economic slowdown is directly hitting working families who are flooding into social service agencies for help. But those same nonprofit agencies also are experiencing economic stress as the donors they depend upon find themselves less able to give.

The double whammy of increased demand and smaller donations is creating a crisis of need that must be addressed on several levels - by individuals, business groups and government agencies.

A 'staggering' amount of need

Recent reports from several metro-area social service agencies show the recession is pushing vulnerable families over the edge. The Oregon Food Bank, based in Northeast Portland, last week reported that the need for food boxes has reached record levels.

The demand for emergency food increased by 13 percent in July, August and September when compared with the same period last year - and that was before the most distressing economic news arrived in October with the collapse of the stock market.

The food bank isn't the only agency reporting such trends. In Gresham, SnowCap Community Charities is serving more people than ever before. It is seeing more working people who've lost all or part of their income and whose families are in need of food, utility assistance, medicines and Christmas gifts for children.

SnowCap Assistant Director Lorie Wageman describes the numbers as 'staggering' - and she is not alone in her observations. From Sandy to Forest Grove, the nation's economic dislocations are having an immediate and personal impact on Portland-area families.

Individuals and groups must act

With such immense needs, no single individual, business group, social service agency or government body can solve these growing problems of hunger and economic insecurity. But there are specific steps people can take to help neighbors at this most critical moment:

• First, although the holiday season is a traditional time for charitable giving, people must recognize that these are not temporary problems that will go away after Christmas. The needs will increase into next year, which means those who have the means to give must continue to do so throughout the year.

• Along the same lines, this is a time to focus charitable gifts on human needs within our local communities. That's not to say that national or international causes should be ignored. But the first priority ought to be our obligation to assist our neighbors.

• As a state - and related specifically to hunger - Oregon should build upon the work of the governor-appointed Hunger Relief Task Force and continue to expand participation in food-stamp programs and child-nutrition programs. These outreach efforts are even more necessary at a time when the economy is throwing families that haven't previously experienced hunger into unemployment and poverty.

• Business people should get firmly behind the Oregon Business Hunger Initiative, which will be discussed as part of the Oregon Leadership Summit on Dec. 11. This initiative outlines short- and long-term actions that can be taken to decrease the level of hunger in our state.

While some of the above suggestions require coordination and discussion among groups of people, Portland-area residents should not forget that they can make a personal and individual difference by acting now.

The current needs facing overwhelming numbers of local residents are urgent. Any and all assistance will be welcome. To donate to the Oregon Food Bank, go to www.oregonfoodbank.org, or call 503-282-0555.