At United Food Bank’s original 23,000-square foot Mesa warehouse, staff and volunteers were literally bumping into each other. Delivery trucks had to wait to dock because the center only had three truck bays.
On April 12, the non-profit food distribution center moved into a 42,000-square foot Mesa warehouse that’s almost double the size of the original location. The freezer is eight times larger and the cooler is three times bigger — adding up to much more room for perishable donations.
The massive warehouse, located at 245 S. Nina Drive, allows the food bank to be more organized and provide more for the 250 agencies it has served in five counties since 1983, said Donna Rodgers, director of resource development.
“It’s not so congested, and we can stage areas (of donations) where before we were so cramped,” said Rodgers, adding that United Food Bank now has six docking bays. “The old place was falling apart. Everything about it was too small. Everyone’s really happy (here).”
That’s a good thing for the Valley, considering there has been a 70-percent increase in need since last year, she said.
The food bank can now accept as many as 100 pallets of donations a day, as opposed to 40 at the old place, said Joel Lockwood, director of warehouse and transportation.
“This is a breath of fresh air,” said Lockwood, a Queen Creek resident. “It took a lot of stress off our guys. When you’re always stepping on each other’s toes, you get into a place like this, and it’s a whole new world.”
Last month alone, United Food Bank sent out more than 1 million pounds of donated items, and last year the food bank distributed 13 million pounds. This year, the food bank is on track to distribute 16 million pounds, Rodgers said.
The United Food Bank accepts food and money donations. Items always in need include canned chili, tuna, chicken and fruit, peanut butter, and 1- to 2-pound bags of rice and beans.
“We couldn’t fill 3 million pounds of food donations our agencies were requesting,” because the food bank didn’t have enough donations, said Rodgers, a Chandler resident.
Summer donations are especially needed because children are out of school, families pay larger utility bills and some parents may not work to take care of their children.
The summer is typically a slower donation period, but several food drives help the doldrums. Last weekend, the National Association of Letter Carriers’ annual food drive brought in 150,000 pounds of food, which is higher than last year, Rodgers said. The annual Christmas in July donation drive is coming.
United Food Bank bought the $3 million warehouse. The non-profit took out a loan and also received many donations of paint, furniture, televisions and shelving racks to equip the new space.
United Food Bank offers the board room, when available, as a free meeting room for the community. The room holds about 30 people.
The new location also has a kitchen and break room for its volunteers and 30 employees.
United Food Bank is still using its old Mesa location, 358 E. Javelina Ave., as a volunteer hub and spot for the Help Yourself food box program. The $16 boxes are available from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays.
About 350 boxes are sold each week, which is down 17 percent from last year, said Sagé Randall, director of programs and services.
Each box is worth at least $40 and has five fresh meats, five produce items and five dry goods to create five meals for a family of four. There are no restrictions on box purchases, which can be made with cash or an EBT card, Randall said.
“It’s really a great program,” said Randall, who also lives in Chandler. “I buy two boxes a month for myself and my sons, and it’s the best $32 I spend."
Donations are accepted from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday at United Food Bank’s warehouse.
Volunteers and community food drives are also needed. For volunteering opportunities, call DeAnna Yazzie at (480) 926-4897, ext. 218.
If you go:
United Food Bank warehouse dedication
When: 9 a.m. May 14
Where: 245 S. Nina Drive, Mesa
Details: There will be refreshments, presentations, donor recognitions, ribbon cutting, tours and a ceremonial planting of flower seeds in the front planters.
Info: (480) 926-4897 or www.unitedfoodbank.org