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The Sunshine Division of the Portland Police Bureau had its busiest day on Monday.

COURTESY PHOTO: KOIN 6 NEWS - People and vehicles lined up around the block of the Sunshine Division distribution center on Nov. 21.More and more Oregon families are now relying on food banks and other free meal services. The Oregon Food Bank said 1.5 million people have sought food assistance in the state this year, which is double the number who relied on food banks before the COVID-19 pandemic. The Sunshine Division of the Portland Police Bureau prepared the most food boxes in its 100 year history on Monday, Nov. 21. And the Blanchet House in Old Town said people are now driving up to it for meals.

According to meal providers, demand first started increasing because of the economic impact of the pandemic. Now, inflation and rising rent prices are meaning more families are relying on food banks and soup kitchens. According to Google, the search "food pantries near me" in Oregon increased by 70% in the past year.

Officials with the organizations said there is no shame in using their services and encouraged donations ahead of Thanksgiving.

The Oregon Food Bank held an event on Monday where volunteers packed food donation boxes to be distributed to food support organizations and families across Oregon ahead of the holiday season, as part of Google and Feeding America's effort to provide 50 million meals nationwide.

In recent years Thanksgiving Week has become the busiest week for the Sunshine Division. They are now serving four times as many households than they ever were before the pandemic.

"This holiday season, emergency crisis food relief is a huge need right now in our community, but really the entire country," said Executive Director Kyle Camberg.

Camberg, who has led the Sunshine Division for more than a decade, said they're addressing food insecurity nearly every day year-round.

And Monday was unlike anything he's ever seen.

"We actually served more families just in the morning than we ever have in a single day in the entire day," he told KOIN 6 News.

A line of people and cars wrapped around the building. More than 1,200 households came to the Sunshine Division to pick up a Thanksgiving meal, plus hundreds more boxes were delivered to people's homes.

That is double the number of families from their previous busiest record — 630 people in a single day.

"It tells me that the need in Portland has never been greater," he said. "And now really we're seeing the inflationary trends."

The big factor in Portland, he said, is the cost of living, gas and groceries.

"We are seeing and hearing from families, many families where it's two-income families that are just not able to make ends meet," Camberg said.

A box of food for the holiday gives nourishment, peace and hope.

"I just heard from so many people the same thing over and over; it was gratitude. It was people saying, 'God bless you.' Thank you for doing this, thank you to the donors and the folks that make this happen," he said.

It's an honor for the Sunshine Division to continue this tradition for the 100th holiday season, he said. With more people in need than ever before in our area, it's been really hard for the Sunshine Division to keep up. They exist on small gifts and food drives.

Camberg stressed they desperately need the community support to supply the demand.

KOIN 6 News talked with Blanchet House, a soup kitchen in Old Town, who says they have noticed the increased need too.

"We're definitely seeing more families, people with children who are coming, more people who drive up … People are looking for a way to stretch their food budget," said Scott Kerman from Blanchet House. "We're seeing people access our services that we don't normally see."

"It's really tragic what I'm seeing, especially here in Old Town," added Blanchet House client Carson Rivers.

Kerman also pointed out how inflation also impacts them, but they can't pass those increased costs onto the people they serve.

"There was an economic crisis that proceeded the pandemic," he said. "We have to assume those costs, and we're not going to diminish our services. We're actually having to elevate our services."

KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Pamplin Media Group.

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