If there was a record for handing out food boxes, Mesa’s Paz de Cristo would surely be in the running. The community center provided nearly 800 of them Tuesday in just three hours, including a Thanksgiving turkey and all the trimmings for East Valley families who would otherwise go without.
"This helps a lot," said Loucinda Hastings, who had her two grandchildren, ages 1 and 3, in tow. "My daughter is the only one working right now."
In addition to the turkey, potatoes, stuffing, cranberries and a pumpkin pie, each family received a bag of food, including canned fruits and vegetables, pasta, soup, baked goods, milk, eggs, a pizza, melon and cabbage. Even diapers were available.
The food bank was a couple of hundred turkeys short Monday, but a lastminute appeal brought in a steady stream of the birds. One man dropped off 80 turkeys, said volunteer coordinator Michele Ross.
Though Paz de Cristo gives out nearly 400 food boxes every second Tuesday and fourth Saturday, the pre-Thanksgiving effort requires extra planning and dozens of additional volunteers.
By the time the doors opened at 11 a.m., people spilled onto the sidewalk along Broadway Road. After a brief interview, where they showed ID and explained how many were in the family, they were paired with students from Desert Ridge High School and escorted to the food bank.
Behind the scenes, the main food pantry was humming with more than a dozen volunteers and coordinators, each manning a food station — a shopping cart full of stuffing or a stack of pumpkin pies. They stocked rolling carts according to the family’s size.
The cart moved out the door, and the students helped families load their cars.
"It’s an awakening for some of my students," said Stefanie Johnson, an English teacher at Desert Ridge, a Mesa campus in the Gilbert Unified School District.
The 40 teen volunteers are in Johnson’s Extra Mile Club, a community service group that also serves meals in the Paz de Cristo dining room, or are enrolled in her community service class.
Sally Russell, who heard about Paz de Cristo from neighbors in her trailer park, recently moved from Alaska and hasn’t found a job yet.
Those without a place to go this Thanksgiving can attend the center’s evening meal, served 365 days a year. More than 200 people are expected.
"It’s all because of the donors and the volunteers," Ross said. "That is just huge generosity."
How to help
Bring nonperishable food to:
> > Paz de Cristo, 424 W. Broadway Road, (480) 464-2370
> > United Food Bank, 358 E. Javelina Ave., (480) 926-4897
> > Any Trader Joe’s, Safeway, Bashas’, Fry’s or Sprouts grocery stores.
Where to go
> > The Tempe Salvation Army will be serving a Thanksgiving meal to the needy from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursday at 140 E. University Drive, just east of Mill Avenue. For information call (480) 967-8649.
> > Paz de Cristo Community Center will serve Thanksgiving dinner from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m. Thursday at 424 W. Broadway Road. For information call (480) 464-2370.