'We Don't Turn Anyone Down'

Local food bank provides hard-luck help, with interest

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A chilly breeze blows in through the open door of the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank's tiny office, but a bright beam of noonday sun competes for attention. Stephanie and Christian Madrid come in with their 4-day-old daughter, Destiny.

Wayne Parent, president of the food bank, starts to close the door, but Stephanie protests: "Oh no, that's OK. The sun is good for her. She's jaundiced."

The newborn, bundled up in blankets in her car seat begins to fret a little.

"She's just hungry," her mother says, smiling at her baby.

The Madrids, who live in Payson, have just come from the Department of Economic Security where they were given a referral slip to exchange for food. While Stephanie fills out the paper work for the Food Bank, Christian carries the box of food, including a frozen turkey, to their car. The box also contains cans of pumpkin, yams, cranberry sauce, fresh white potatoes, eggs, bread and kiwifruit.

The young couple isn't always able to make ends meet these days, and Stephanie says they come in every two or three months for food. Christian works odd jobs as he can get them, he says, usually in construction, which is slow this time of year.

"It's hard for young people here because pay is low but the cost of living is high," Parent says. He adds that they often help couples who are both working, but at minimum wage. Sometimes an unexpected emergency occurs and they need food.

Jody Sullivan, also of Payson, steps into the office. He picked up his box of food supplies earlier, and is back to see about getting some clothing. Sullivan, originally from Boston, moved into Step House, a halfway house, after he was released from jail, he says. That's where he heard about the food bank. He has a wife and a daughter, age 2. The young man is grateful for the food and clothes.

"This will help me straighten out my life and get back on my feet again," he says.

Parent arranges by phone for Sullivan to go to Time Out Thrift Shop for the clothes. He explains that the various charitable organizations in town make up a network to help people in need. Parent became president of the Food Bank last June, taking over the job that Joe Calderon had held for six years. The name was changed from Payson Food Bank to St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank at that time. The Food Bank started in Payson in the mid-1980s.

The holidays are the busiest time.

"We were short of turkeys, so we put out a cry," Parent says. "We got 144 turkeys." Donations of food come from many sources. United Food Bank in Mesa gave 50 turkeys. St. Mary's Food Bank in Phoenix sends two or three pallets a month, which usually includes fresh fruit.

"This morning, the Rotary Club sent over five pickups, about 5,000 pounds, of food they've gathered," Parent says. "They also sent a $500 cash donation."

He adds that local schools gathered about 5,000 pounds of food this season. The middle school alone delivered 4,500 pounds of canned goods. The local branch of the U.S. Post Office donates between 7,000 and 10,000 pounds in May each year. All the local churches donate to the Food Bank, he says, as do many other organizations. Local grocery stores regularly donate day-old bread and other perishables.

Many individuals donate, too.

"For example, a couple brought in 16 turkeys, and a man stopped by with $100," Parent says.

The food bank also receives $5,450 each year from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We help about 90 families per week, about 350 to 400 families each year. We don't just hand them a box of food. We select items according to the ages of children in the family, or whether there's an elderly person. Some don't have transportation, so we deliver the food to them," says Parent.

Bob Closs, a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, is at the Food Bank as a volunteer. His wife, Darlene, also volunteers often. Closs says he's been involved in the organization for 15 years, including the four years they've lived in Payson. He likes working directly with people.

There are 34 members like Closs who volunteer to work at the Food Bank. And there's plenty to keep them busy. Besides servicing the recipients of the food and helping them with other needs they may have, there's sorting and shelving of the donated items, filling the refrigerators and freezers, and unloading the trucks when they arrive.

Occasionally, someone volunteers who isn't a "Vincentian."

"We've had people as volunteers who are ordered by the court to do community service work. We're glad to have them and anyone else who wants to help," Parent says.

"One hundred percent of all that's donated to the organization is put back into the community," Closs says. There are no salaries or other administrative costs that have to be paid out of the donated funds. All of the work is done by volunteers.

Closs says that St. Vincent de Paul's world headquarters is in Paris, France. Worldwide, there are about 1 million members. St. Louis, Missouri is the national headquarters. The local group is under the Catholic Diocese of Tucson.

How do they keep track of the many people they serve?

"We put it all into the computer and evaluate the information periodically," Closs says.

If we see someone coming in every week, we contact that person for special counseling. There are a lot of things we can do to help, other places we can send them to find a job, or get help with rent or utilities. We try to follow up on them. We also offer to help them spiritually."

It's not unusual for a woman to come in for food who has been abused or thrown out of the home by the husband, Parent says. In such cases, they contact the Time Out shelter for women and children. When they encounter a homeless veteran, they send him to Veterans Helping Veterans, which has extra rooms.

"We're usually the first contact. These people are hungry. Sometimes their cars have broken down or they have no money for gas, and they're desperate to get home. We can send them to various places for a room and emergency funds. Some churches have rooms for that purpose, or we pay for a motel room for them," Parent says.

"We don't turn anyone down, and we take people at face value," he adds. "We know we get scammed once in a while, but that's part of it. It's really rewarding work."

The food bank, at 511 S. St. Phillips St. on the grounds of St. Phillip's Catholic Church, is open from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday For more information, call the office at 474-9104.

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