East Valley food bank operators say waning donations and rising demand mean they need more of everything this holiday season, especially turkeys. "We’ve seen an increase in agencies, which means an increase in need, so hopefully we’ll see an increase in donations," said Kim Brooks, program manager at United Food Bank in Mesa.
The food bank supplies about 250 agencies in the East Valley and eastern Arizona with food for the needy.
Local food bank operators said job losses and a still shaky economy have led many more people this year than last to contact charitable agencies for emergency food boxes. The increasing need has meant many food banks can’t stockpile donations for lean times — shelves are emptied almost as soon as volunteers fill them.
"We’ve basically had to take some of our budget that wasn’t allocated to purchase food and purchase food with it to keep our agencies afloat," Brooks said.
Employees at the food banks said East Valley residents can help this year by bringing common-sense, nonperishable donations appropriate for the season — things every family needs for holiday meals.
Mary Small, office manager at East Mesa Baptist Church and its food bank, said the food bank’s needs are simple. "What we really need is turkey and cereal," she said.
Turkey tops the wish list for food banks during November because many plan extra outreach for Thanksgiving, said Rita Koppinger, human services manager for Scottsdale and its Vista del Camino food bank.
"We’re concerned about next week and whether we’re going to have enough turkeys and food to distribute the 400 or so Thanksgiving food boxes we plan to give in addition to the 2,000 boxes we do each week," Koppinger said.
At Paz de Christo Community Center in Mesa, director Sue Ringler said she hopes 50 turkeys the food bank has now would turn into 500 by Thanksgiving.
Demand and donations both increase around the holidays, she said. "It’ll be really gung-ho from now until Christmastime."
Mesa resident Anna Swan brings her teenage daughter, Melissa, and her daughter’s friends to eat dinner at Paz de Cristo each week.
Swan said she works all week at a toner cartridge recycling plant but still comes up short financially. "I just got paid Friday, but I have no money to buy food," she said Saturday.
Swan said the dinner and food boxes create a sense of family for needy people during the holidays.
"They need more places like this," she said. "It’s a blessing."
Ringler said that this time of year many schools and other groups are conducting food drives. Food banks usually see a surge in donations from them right before Thanksgiving, she said.
Two young Gilbert girls are hosting a food drive, with a twist, beginning Monday at Valley of the Sun YMCAs and Maricopa County libraries. Jonnie, 12, and Brookie Allen, 10, are authors and professional singers. The two are giving something back to people who donate canned goods to their food drive.
Their book, "No Snow for Christmas," is about kids living in the desert and wishing for Christmas snowfall. The girls are giving away 5,000 copies of the book to people who donate four cans of food at the YMCA and library dropoff locations.
The girls also will perform 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday at Fiesta Mall in Mesa. They will be collecting donations and distributing books as they welcome Santa and sing on Radio Disney, KMIK (1580 AM), the girls’ mother, Melinda Allen, said.
Food drives help fill shelves, but some food banks could use volunteers more than anything, said Aimee Gormady, director of Arizona Loaves and Fishes Food Bank at the Paradise Valley Baptist Church.
"I’m just so busy feeding people, I haven’t had time to worry about where the next truckload is coming from," she said.
Volunteers could help solicit donations, which have been "a whole lot worse than last year," she said.
"I’m expecting turkeys next week, but I haven’t seen the nonperishables to go into the boxes with them," Gormady said.
In Apache Junction, need has far outpaced donations this year, said John Snethen, president of the Apache Junction Reach Out Food Bank, which served 20,000 people last year.
"I don’t believe it could be any worse now," Snethen said. "There’s a lot of people getting laid off. Last year was definitely better."
The all-volunteer food bank could also use some manpower to drive donation trucks to local grocery stores to pick up more canned goods, Snethen said.
"We just give it away as soon as we get it," he said.
How to help
East Valley food banks say they’re most in need of 10 pound frozen turkeys and nonperishable goods. Some need volunteers to drive donation trucks, seek donations and distribute food boxes. To donate or volunteer, contact:
• Apache Junction Reach Out Food Bank 575 N. Idaho Road, Apache Junction (480) 983-2995
• Arizona Loaves and Fishes Food Bank at Paradise Valley Baptist Church 14034 N. 32nd St., Phoenix (602) 361-0768
• Chandler Christian Community Center 345 S. California St., Chandler (480) 963-1423
• East Mesa Baptist Church 752 S. Ellsworth Road, Mesa (480) 986-9827
• Mesa Community Action Network 635 E. Broadway Road, Mesa (480) 833-9200 www.mesacan.org
• Paradise Valley Emergency Food Bank 10862 N. 32nd St., Phoenix (602) 867-9228
• United Food Bank 358 E. Javelina Ave., Mesa (480) 926-4897
• Vista del Camino 7700 E. Roosevelt St., Scottsdale (480) 312-2323