When Funky Fries flopped, Oregon regional food banks received one-quarter million pounds of the cocoa-flavored, blue-colored and cinnamon-smelling potatoes for free.

Something for nothing is usually good, but the pantries had a product with little nutritional value. Additionally, while kids were salivating over the fries, many parents were less than enthusiastic - after all, Heinz combined spuds with chocolate.

Funky Fries are why feeding needy families isn't just about providing food. It's about food quality, nutrition and access, and how the United States produces and distributes food, said Sharon Thornberry, community food programs advocate with the Oregon Food Bank.

Thornberry spoke at the first meeting of the newly-formed Community Food Security Coalition, which met Thursday to talk about hunger issues in Clatsop County.

The meeting drew people from not only the social service sector, but individuals who are involved in selling food, treating undernourished people, and studying food and household skills within U.S. culture.

Thornberry told the group that there are a number of problems individuals face in accessing food, including knowledge of where to go for help and something as simple as transportation.

"We might look at the ad, but we don't think about the fact that some people can't pick up the ad and go to the grocery store," she said.

On the supplier's end, solving hunger has become more complex because resources are diminishing at food banks.

"There's less and less food available because stores are more efficient - except for those things they miss on their marketing," Thornberry said.

Thornberry suggested the group perform a community food assessment to discover where food issues overlap and find out how to better help people who access emergency food.

Nancy Hudson, regional food bank manager for Oregon Food Bank, said such assessments have helped managers before.

During the last assessment, she learned that pantries were only giving out bottles of oil to families of two or more in an effort to stretch resources. She worked with the Oregon Food Bank and the pantries so that individuals can get oil, too.

Also, pantries have worked harder to combine foods that can be used to make a meal.

"If we give them hamburger, we make sure they get spaghetti and spaghetti sauce so they can make dinner," Hudson said.

Hudson said the next step for the group is to create an eight-person board willing to head the coalition and to start focusing on the myriad of hunger issues and their root causes - for example, the seasonal unemployment that is beginning.

The group plans to meet again in October when a representative from the Tillamook Community Food Security Coalition will speak.

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