Food banks brace for busy Thanksgiving - East Valley Tribune: News

Food banks brace for busy Thanksgiving

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Posted: Saturday, November 21, 2009 2:49 pm | Updated: 1:01 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Every first and third Saturday, hundreds of people line up at Main Street and Extension Road in Mesa to receive bags of food from Resurrection Street Ministry/Manna Food Bank.

“They usually start lining up between 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m., even in cold weather,” said Bill Berry, the organization’s director of programs. “It’s really a sight to see.”

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Every first and third Saturday, hundreds of people line up at Main Street and Extension Road in Mesa to receive bags of food from Resurrection Street Ministry/Manna Food Bank.

“They usually start lining up between 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m., even in cold weather,” said Bill Berry, the organization’s director of programs. “It’s really a sight to see.”

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Mesa’s Paz de Cristo gets grant from donor

Organizations like Resurrection Street Ministry/Manna Food Bank already are busy trying to keep up with demand for free groceries and hot meals as more people across the East Valley find themselves unable to afford food for their families.

As a result, they’re bracing for much heavier than usual traffic when they serve Thanksgiving dinner.

“We’re up above 40 percent as far as demand, and we’re down over 35 percent as far as money,” Berry said. “When we talk about the congregate meals where we feed at our facility, we’re up about 40 percent. As far as food boxes, we’re up over 100 percent. We’re doing over 2,000 food boxes a week, and a year ago we were doing 400 to 500.”

The Association of Arizona Food Banks reported that several local sites will be open to share food resources leading up to the holidays and hot meals on Thanksgiving.

Brian Simpson, spokesman for the association, said food banks across the East Valley have reported a drop in donations, and many locations have not been able to provide hot meals on the holiday.

“Some food banks and social services agencies reported that this year they were able to give away food but unable to prepare and provide cooked food on Thanksgiving,” Simpson said.

Resurrection Street Ministry/Manna Food Bank is located at 756 W. Main St. and has a men’s shelter and another food bank in Tempe. It also works with Victory Outreach in Chandler and Soldiers of the Cross in east Mesa.

“Last month, we (distributed) a little over 88,000 pounds of food, a little over 9,000 people for food boxes and a little over 4,000 meals,” Berry said. “We know we’re going to be doing more than 1,000 meals this year just for Thanksgiving.”

Paz de Cristo, a Mesa-based nonprofit at 424 W. Broadway Road that serves meals to the needy and provides food boxes, has seen a “dramatic” increase in the number of families coming for evening meals because of the economy, said Michael Boos, director.

“Most of them came out here with hopes for jobs or jobs that were promised to them, and then when they got here their jobs evaporated and they don’t have any money to get back home,” he said.

“Or, they get out here, they have a job for a couple of weeks, and then all of a sudden the employer closes the doors and locks everything up, and they’re stranded. We even see people who are coming out here for a trip or a vacation, they break down and they don’t have enough money to get their vehicles repaired to go back home.”

Because so many churches serve Thanksgiving dinners, Paz de Cristo usually sees fewer people for its evening meal on that day, “but this year we’re expecting a little more because there are more people out there,” Boos said.

“For Thanksgiving, we’re expecting over 1,200 people coming out for food boxes on Tuesday,” he said. “Our numbers continue to go higher. The economy may be rebounding, but not for those affected by us down here.”

Mesa-based United Food Bank provides food to agencies that, in turn, assist individuals in need. Its agencies are reporting a 60 percent increase in the number of food boxes they distribute, said Donna Rodgers, director of resource development.

“Last fiscal year (July 1, 2008-June 31, 2009) we distributed just shy of 13 million pounds of food to 250 agencies in five Arizona counties, and we could have distributed another 3 million pounds of food, but we didn’t have it. If we don’t have it, we have to tell our agencies that we don’t have it, and then of course they have to tell the individuals that they don’t have it.”

More people are volunteering their time and donations are on the rise, but it’s not enough to meet demand, Rodgers said.

The food bank’s annual Turkey Drive-Thru makes it easy for people to donate turkeys and other food items to provide holiday dinners for more people, she said.

“People can literally drive up to our parking lot — they don’t even have to get out of the car — hand us their turkey through the window, and we’ll give them a receipt on the spot for tax purposes,” she said.

Lisa Wilson, human services coordinator for Mesa, said the city would collect donated turkeys the week of Thanksgiving and distribute the food to local food banks.

“We are expecting a huge turnout of probably more than 1,200,” she said, adding that last year saw a similar number. “The city realizes that it’s really tough economic times out there for families, and we want to try to help.”

Wilson said the event, called The City of Mesa Great Turkey Tuesday, would coordinate with United Food Bank to receive donations in the Convention Center parking lot at 201 N. Center St. from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

People tend to be more generous during the holidays, but the need for assistance extends well beyond the season, Rodgers said.

“We do truly appreciate everybody coming out to help during the holidays, but the truth is people eat all year long, and we do see a sharp drop in donations come Jan. 2 because that holiday feeling is kind of passed,” Rodgers said. “We try to encourage people to keep that good feeling through March and April, and so forth.”

How to help:

• United Food Bank is accepting donations of food during its annual Turkey Drive-Thru, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 23-25 at 358 E. Javelina Ave., off Mesa Drive and just north of U.S. 60 in Mesa.

• Paz De Cristo, a Mesa-based nonprofit, is accepting monetary donations online at www.pazdecristo.org. If interested in volunteering, contact Christine Oliviero at (480) 464-2370.

• Resurrection Street Ministry/Manna Food Bank is accepting food donations from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day at 756 W. Main St. in Mesa.

Tribune writer Andre Bowser contributed to this report

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