First countywide food drive to help struggling pantries
Chief of External Affairs of Chiricahua Community Health Center Dennis Walto, left, talks to Becky Smyth, grants manager and community outreach coordinator for the Legacy Foundation of Southeast Arizona, while carrying food drive boxes into Chiricahua Community Health Center on Tuesday. ARILYNN HYATT HERALD/REVIEW
By Arilynn Hyatt firstname.lastname@example.org Jun 8, 2023
SIERRA VISTA — The first countywide food drive will take place June 18-25 to help struggling food pantries provide more food for families in need.
“It was an opportunity to start pantries and food banks, and even some of the local gardens are involved, in food distribution,” said Becky Smyth, grants manager and community outreach coordinator for the Legacy Foundation of Southeast Arizona. “Trying to tap into some of that unidentified assets or opportunities to really increase food capacity in Cochise County,”
Smyth said the Legacy Foundation of Southeast Arizona started working with other food banks across the county in March 2022 to find ways to provide more food to the community.
“We found out that our county is pretty much a food desert,” said Mary Mueller, food distribution coordinator for the Salvation Army.
Mueller, along with representatives from other food pantries, said the food banks are always lacking any form of protein. She said people can donate different canned meats, dairy products, such as eggs, as well as canned beans and peanut butter.
Najayyah Many Horses, president of the Benson Community Food Pantry, said a lot of the main food banks such as the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona are drying up.
“Everybody is struggling, so by us being able to do this, you’re taking care of your village, so to speak,” she said.
Many Horses said the Benson Community Food Pantry serves upward of 800 people every week. In Benson, the poverty level is 52% below the standard level. The pantry serves about 25% of people below the poverty line.
“Times are just really tough in a number of different ways and you can’t really say it’s all COVID related,” Smyth said.
With the rising prices of gas and food, Tony Bedolla, executive director of the Bisbee Coalition of the Homeless, said a lot of people can’t afford food.
“The demand is still there, we get about 70 cars a week that come to get food,” Bedolla said.
He said the coalition often receives bread loafs and different types of pastries, but nothing substantial.
“That’s what the food drive is for,” Bedolla said. “To buffer that up, so when we’re handing out meals, it’s actually a good meal, not just something to snack on.”
In Douglas, the St. Vincent de Paul food bank also has seen an increase in people coming to receive food in the last year and a half, said Nancie Ames, president of the Douglas St. Vincent de Paul.
“We’ve all seen how expensive it is to go to the grocery store,” Ames said. “You used to be able to spend $40 or $50 but now it’s costing maybe $100.”
All of the food pantries have said they have spent out of pocket money in order to meet the needs of the communities.</p/>
“The last time that we bought food, we spent over $3,000,” Many Horses said.
Mueller said the Salvation Army has been helping set up food drive boxes across the city in different businesses, local governments, clubs and organizations. There are flyers and information posted on social media with a QR code showing the different locations to donate food. People are encouraged to donate non-perishable food items such as canned, boxed and dry goods.
“We got a good start on our participation,” Mueller said. “I think it will grow as we continue to do this every year.”
Some businesses and law enforcement agencies have decided to make competitions to see how much can be collected. The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office said it will be holding a competition between other public safety agencies to see which agency can collect the most for the food pantries. The winning agency will receive a surprise.
The idea is for every smaller community to keep everything they collect. If Sierra Vista exceeds its capacity for food, they will give the excess to other pantries in the county, Smyth said.
To Smyth, it is way more than a food drive. It’s about raising awareness of the needs and resources in the county as well as bringing the community together and giving people a purpose.
“With these relationships, seeing all of them working together toward this one big drive is a huge team builder,” Smyth said. “It’s also about bringing the community together.”