United Food Bank's reach goes through Mesa, East Valley and beyond - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

United Food Bank's reach goes through Mesa, East Valley and beyond

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Posted: Friday, April 5, 2013 7:26 am | Updated: 1:08 pm, Sun Apr 7, 2013.

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith spoke honestly with United Food Bank President Bob Evans on Wednesday.

“I hope we can shut you guys down,” Smith said before more than 200 food bank supporters.

Smith's sentiment was hardly negative. As he sees it, not needing the services of the Mesa institution would mean that the city and its neighbors have all but eradicated the problem of hunger.

But the reality, Smith noted, is that the need for the food bank in the community has grown in recent years.

United Food Bank collects and distributes food to partner organizations that serve 25,000 square miles in five Arizona counties. Together, they put 45,000 meals daily into the hands of people who would otherwise not have food to eat.

“We’re blessed in the East Valley to have many different organizations like United Food Bank that came to being because a few people came together who saw a need,” Smith told the group during the third annual Rise & Shine Friends of United Food Bank Breakfast. “The people who are served and able to be fed then go serve and their influence goes across the community.”

The event, hosted smack dab in the facility's sprawling warehouse, raised more than $23,000 for the food bank. But it also offered lessons about the help the 30-year-old nonprofit provides in the community.

Mike Daley of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s Phoenix service center in Chandler gave some insight into how groups like his work with the United Food Bank.

“We come to you each week and collect the food, the bread, pastries, produce, drinks and juices, believing we will find someone, somewhere we serve who would need it,” Daley said.

Because the Tzu Chi Foundation encourages a vegetarian lifestyle, Daley said the United Food Bank has helped it make that part of its mission. With food from the United Food Bank and other donations, food boxes are distributed from the Tzu Chi Foundation’s Chandler location to families in need. Each weekend, volunteers deliver food boxes to outlying areas. And on Thursday nights, volunteers cook a hot meal and take it to Tempe’s Escalante Park to give to the homeless and those in need who congregate there.

That number may be between 70 and 100 each week, Daley said.

“Two to three years ago, it was half that size,” he said.

Altogether, more than 16,000 food boxes were distributed last year and more than 3,500 people received a hot meal from the Tzu Chi Foundation.

“Always give without remembering. Always receive without forgetting. We will not forget all we receive from you,” Daley told the audience and the United Food Bank staff and board members in attendance.

Twice a month, the United Food Bank’s large Mesa warehouse is emptied and restocked, said Jayson Matthews, chief development officer at the United Food Bank. Donations come in all sizes, he said. Students from Mesa’s Zaharis Elementary School were recognized for organizing a lemonade stand and collecting $200 for the food bank. Fry’s Food Stores presented a $5,000 check, and then offered to give another $5,000 if that much was raised during the breakfast.

Anyone can help.

“It’s indeed a tragedy we have hunger in the community. … But as in any tragedy, people come together to help others,” Smith said.

More information: http://unitedfoodbank.org/

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