CORVALLIS - During the next couple of weeks, a number of Oregon State University employees will sport buttons with the word HUNGER encircled and slashed over with red - a sign meaning no hunger allowed.

Those people are helping to coordinate OSU's part of the Governor's State Employees Food Drive, held every February. The OSU goal this year, officials say, is to gather 80,000 pounds of food.

They have their job cut out for them. For public employees, the last few years have been financially tight. And for Oregon's food banks, the situation is about to get worse.

According to information provided by the state food drive, the federal government formerly provided 15 million pounds of food a year to Oregon's food banks, through its food commodity program. In 1996, it will only provide one million pounds of food to those agencies, a 93.3 percent reduction.

Celeste Weaver, an OSU alum now working for Linn Benton Food Share, said locally that means less rice; pinto, kidney and Great Northern dried beans; dehydrated potatoes; butter; peanut butter; raisins; and canned carrots, peaches and corn.

Food Share officials say the vast majority of those who seek emergency food assistance in Linn and Benton counties are families living paycheck to paycheck who are knocked off balance by illness, car failure, a death in the family or other financial emergencies.

To help Oregon's struggling families, the annual food drive has been expanded this year. As usual, all donations gathered in a particular area will go to food banks in that area.

For more information, or to make a donation, call Gale Hazel, OSU food drive coordinator, at 541-737-0724.

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Gale Hazel, 541-737-0724