The Mesa Cares meal card concept quickly met its demise, but the hungry in Mesa will still get thousands of free prepared meals and an expanded availability of food boxes.
Built heavily around Mesa’s United and Midwest food banks and a strong cadre of non-profits, the Feeding Mesa Program is part of the city’s efforts to assure that no one goes hungry during the COVID-19 pandemic in the face of severe job losses and business closures.
The expanded food security program is part of the Mesa Cares COVID-19 relief efforts.
The city received $90 million from federal pandemic relief money and City Manager Chris Brady is dividing it into $20 million slices, which include the food program and the Small Business Reemergence Program.
A third part to help households possibly with rent and utility bills is still in the works.
Food boxes packed by about 40 Mesa Parks and Recreation Department employees will be distributed on Wednesday afternoons, from 12 noon to 7 p.m., and Friday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. through the United Food Bank at the Mesa Convention Center.
The city also launched a series of food drives at a variety of locations in Mesa, to obtain more food for the food boxes. Heirshberg said nearly three tons of food was collected at the first two food banks at the Red Mountain Recreation Center and at Sloan Park.
Called the Feeding Mesa Canned Food Drives, the campaigns are being held 8 a.m.-noon every Wednesday through July 15 at different locations throughout the city.
Residents are being asked to donate canned goods and other non-perishable food to the drive-through events.
Dates and collection sites are: May 13, Eastmark Great Park, 5100 S. Eastmark Pkwy.; May 20, Mesa Convention Center, 263 N. Center St.; May 27, Greenfield Park, 4105 E. Diamond Ave.; June 3. Dobson Ranch Golf Course, 2155 S. Dobson Road; June 10. Red Mountain Center, 7550 E. Adobe; June 17, Sloan Park; June 24, Eastmark Great Park; July 1, Mesa Convention Center; July 8, Greenfield Park; and July 15, Dobson Ranch Golf Course.
Heirshberg praised his parks employees for their dedication and flexibility, saying, “with the heart of a servant, they have stepped up help these non-profits.’’
Many parks employees were left without a purpose by the closure of city facilities. Brady has been trying to pay their salaries out of the relief funding.
The food distribution at the Mesa Convention Center needed to move inside to avoid the long lines of cars, waiting in the heat on Friday mornings at United Food Bank’s former Help Yourself, drive up program.
In addition, food boxes will be available on Thursdays, starting on May 14 in southeast Mesa through House of Refuge, a homelessness prevention program located in the former Williams Air Force base housing near Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.
Mesa also expects to distribute 1,000 prepared meals a day, cooked by a caterer at the Mesa Convention Center, to a wide variety of United Food Bank’s partners.
“I think we will still get the meals into the hands of people who need them,’’ said Marc Heirshberg, the city’s Parks, Recreation and Community Facility’s director who is now spearheading Feeding Mesa.
“We’re here to supplant the non-profits. A lot of their volunteers are seniors who are considered high-risk’’ and need to follow the Stay at Home order, he said.
Among the United Food Bank partners that will receive the prepared meals are A New Leaf, a wide-ranging Mesa non-profit that operates two homeless shelters, a domestic violence shelter and other facilities.
“I think it’s a pretty impressive feat in a true area of need,’’ Heirshberg said.
Other recipients receiving meals include St. Vincent DePaul and TLC, or Transitional Living Centers, an addiction recovery program, and other United Food Bank partners. Paz de Cristo, Mesa’s primary soup kitchen, traditionally has received food from United Food Bank.
An additional 1,100 meals a day will be prepared by Mesa restaurants and will be delivered to assisted living facilities in the city’s COVID-19 hot zones.
These meals are intended for dual purpose of supporting restaurants decimated by the Stay at Home order, and to feed frontline health-care workers.
Heirshberg also is using some of the federal funds to buy such equipment as refrigerated food trailers and fork lifts for the food banks, and will spend $10,000 on hygiene supplies for the McKenny Vento program, which assists homeless Mesa Public Schools students.
Meanwhile, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has partnered with 16 restaurants to connect people who need food with those who have food but need customers.
It will purchase pre-packaged meals at a discounted price and serve them to-go style at each of the nonprofit’s five charity dining rooms across the Valley, including one in Mesa.
The partnership enables the agency to provide more than 4,000 meals without volunteers and with a limited staff.
“Thanks to this new model, nearly 100 percent of our to-go meals are provided by local restaurants,” St. Vincent de Paul Associate Executive Director Shannon Clancy said, adding:
“This partnership helps us keep up with the demand in our dining rooms, allows fewer staff to have to redeploy from remote work in order to keep our food operations going and helps businesses stay afloat.”
Restaurants include Ajo Al’s Mexican Cafe, Barro’s Pizza, Chick-fil-A, Chompies, Original ChopShop, Detroit Coney Grill, El Portal Mexican Restaurant, Ginger Monkey, Little Caesars, Raising Cane’s, R. T. O’Sullivan’s, Serrano’s Mexican Restaurants, Spokes on Southern, Straight to the Plate Catering, Streets of New York, Subway and Wildflower Bread Company.
Donations to the society’s COVID-19 Relief Fund make this partnership possible, which is an increased cost from its typical budget.
To help: stvincentdepaul.net/COVID19Relief.