Cupboards Nearly Bare

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Dressing. Yams. Cranberries.

And, of course, turkey.

Food banks and charity organizations are gearing up to package and hand out holiday food boxes to the needy for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

In order to maximize donations and serve as many needy county residents as possible, some organizations have banded together in preparation of the holiday season. And while donations have remained steady, need continues to rise as the nation’s economy struggles to come out of recession.

“Because the need has increased so much, the donors are needing to collaborate more in order to get more food out to those who need it,” said Eric Wolverton, director of the St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance’s northern Arizona operations.

Stephanie Boardman, director of Sunshine Rescue Mission, Inc., said that she, Wolverton and Bill Packard of the St. Vincent de Paul Society met to determine how best to stretch community donations. They elected to have the food bank be the site where all donations would be sorted and made into the holiday food boxes.

CENTRAL FOOD STORAGE

Packard said that the individual organizations will still be separately conducting their food drives, but the food would be brought to the food bank for storage and packaging.

Then, the food boxes will be sent to the individual organizations to be distributed, Boardman said. The intent is to keep people in need from having to travel too far to get their food boxes.

Wolverton added that each organization will receive 500 food boxes planned in two separate distributions — for Thanksgiving and for Christmas.

The only requirement to receive a food box is to be in need and to sign up to receive one, Wolverton said.

CUPBOARDS ARE BARE

At the Salvation Army, the cupboards that store food for food boxes are low on food. Lt. Michael O’Brien said that a major donor, Sinagua High School, which has been closed, is no longer a part of the Thanksgiving canned food drive.

“That leaves us in a major food slump this year,” O’Brien said. “With 200 families signed up for Thanksgiving food boxes, we want to do all we can to provide a Thanksgiving meal for these families.”

He added that he’s concerned that there will still be a gap to fill by Thanksgiving time.

O’Brien said that vegetable donations are about halfway to what is needed. But gravy, broth, dessert, stuffing and potatoes remain low.

“Actually, our regular food boxes have been affected,” O’Brien said.

TOMMY THE TURKEY

Kerry Ketchum, executive director at Northern Arizona Food Bank, said that Tommy the Turkey has been set up at the Safeway on North Highway 89 in the hope of augmenting emergency food boxes with holiday food items.

For the Thanksgiving month, Ketchum estimates between 500 and 750 boxes will be distributed. He added that in the last 30 months, the NAFB has experienced a 61 percent increase in requests for emergency food boxes.

And donations, which had been down, are starting to pick up for the holiday season, Ketchum said.

With the price of turkey having gone up this year, Ketchum said the NAFB is looking to increase donations of turkeys this holiday season.

BUILDING TOWARD 2011

Wolverton said that the St. Mary’s food bank saw a 48 percent increase over last year in food handed out — up to 2,500 food boxes a month in Flagstaff alone.

“For us, the big message is that we rely on these two months not just to get us through the holidays, but for 2011,” Wolverton said. “It’s a huge time.”

Boardman and Packard agreed. Boardman said 25 percent of the rescue mission’s annual donations come in the holiday season. Packard said about 40 percent of St. Vincent de Paul’s annual donations come in during the holidays.

As for the future, Wolverton said all three organizations will continue to work on greater collaboration with other organizations in the community.

“This is just the beginning,” Wolverton said.

COME STUFF THE BUS

Mountain Line will also have its “Stuff the Bus” food drive for the St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance this weekend at the new Walmart Supercenter on Huntington Drive.

According to information from Mountain Line, the effort collected 272 pounds of turkey, 2,126 pounds of nonperishable food items and more than $700 in cash donations last year.

“Stuff the Bus is about helping out our community by providing a visible, centralized place for people to donate food for those in need,” stated Jeff Meilbeck, general manager of Mountain Line, in a press release.

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