The drawing of Oregon, displaying each of the state’s 36 counties, is awash in red.

Red bleeds from county border to county border. Only eight counties are colored either tan or white.

Each county is tattooed with a statistic. Under Clatsop County’s name, the statistic is 51.5 percent.

The drawing tells a story about hunger in Oregon from 2010 to 2011. In nearly every county, more than half of the children come from households where the incomes are too low to pay full price for a school lunch.

In plain language, these children are hungry.

Distributed by Marlin Martin, food program developer for Clatsop Community Action, the drawing accompanies a second drawing. But in the second, the statistics were from 2006 to 2007, and, at that time, the colors were reversed: Fewer than a third of the counties were red. Clatsop County was outlined in tan, not red, and the statistic under its name was 39.4 percent.

Combined, the two drawings show how, in just five years, Clatsop County – like the rest of Oregon – has slipped in its capacity to feed children. And where there are hungry children, there are hungry adults, too.

Despite the efforts of former Gov. Ted Kulongoski and others throughout the state, Oregon continues to be ranked second in the nation for food insecurity. In plain language, that means people don’t know when or where they will get their next meal.

In South County, volunteers are trying to keep up with what can only be called an emergency.

Every Wednesday afternoon, the Cannon Beach food pantry is open to local individuals and families who need emergency food boxes. Every weekend and holiday vacation, students at the Cannon Beach Elementary School take home backpacks filled with food to last two or more days.

Donation received

In Gearhart, the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry recently received a $25,000 donation from Providence Health Plan. The gift will be used to assist 125 families who need help paying rent and utilities.

The food pantry served 2,500 families last year with food boxes. The numbers never go down: In 2011, the number of families served was up by 500 over 2010. So far, this year, 200 more families have been served compared to this time last year.

In Seaside, the count of hungry people coming through the door hasn’t diminished, either. The South County Food Bank serves an average of 987 people a month; sometimes that number goes over 1,300.

Seaside receives 28 percent of all of the food distributed by the Clatsop Community Action Regional Food Bank. Last year, 350,825 pounds of food were distributed in Seaside. Both the South County Food Bank and the weekend backpack program at Seaside Heights Elementary School benefit from the low-cost food that they buy from the regional food bank. But even pricing it at $1.50 a pound, as the Oregon Food Bank values it, means that more than $526,000 in food was given last year to those who were hungry in Seaside.

There are other programs that feed the hungry: A few local churches have social meals during the week. Seniors participate in the lunch program at Bob Chisholm Community Center, and meals are delivered to homebound seniors. Children attending day camp during the summer also receive lunches.

With all of this activity, you would think the need has been covered. But those who are in the thick of it say more work is necessary.

That’s why the Food 4 Kids organization is expanding its weekend backpack program to Gearhart Elementary School next month. A pilot program will serve 35 kids, but if the experience is anything like Seaside Heights Elementary, where 40 backpacks soon became 90, more money will be needed to continue next year. Organizers estimate they will need $10,000 for the Gearhart program and $25,000 for Seaside Heights.

Contributions can be sent to Food 4 Kids, P.O. Box 2484, Gearhart, OR 97138.

The South County Food Bank also is seeking donations so it can move and provide proper service to its clients.

The building, owned by the Astoria Moose Lodge, has been sold. But, as they say, when one door closes, another opens. This is an opportunity for the food bank to find the right property, with the proper shelves to store the food from the regional food bank and refrigeration to preserve the fresh produce it receives from local groceries.

It’s an opportunity to have a building without a leaky roof, with enough insulation to stay warm in winter and enough space for clients to wait their turn inside the building instead of inside their cars or outside in the rain.

The Seaside Community Foundation, operated by the Seaside Chamber of Commerce, is raising funds for a new food pantry, which could cost $400,000. Foundation board members are seeking a $300,000 grant, but they need a $100,000 in matching funds.

Donations can be sent to the foundation, P.O. Box 7, Seaside, OR 97138. Make checks out to the SCCFB Building Fund.

Another option: Take your change to U.S. Bank, and the bank will send a check to the Seaside Community Foundation.

Whatever you do, do it now. In plain language, this is your chance to feed a hungry child. 

Nancy McCarthy is the South County reporter for The Daily Astorian. Her column appears every other week.