Refugees from the recession, the family of four wound up in Payson with no jobs, no money and no food.
But after finding the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank Thursday, they found they had one great thing —good neighbors.
The food bank promptly gave them enough food to get through the next few weeks.
Now, the mother, who asked not to be identified, says she hopes she can turn up a job.
Unfortunately, this woman’s story is not unique. Pleas for food in Rim Country food banks have jumped 250 percent as unemployment has risen — but donations have dwindled.
In October, the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank fed 635 families, said Wayne Parent with the food bank.
After being open only two days in November, Parent said they have already fed 81 families or around 196 people.
Normally, the first of the month is one of the slower times for the food bank because people are using their new food stamps, Parent said.
“This is a large number for opening days,” he said.
For the woman who had just arrived from Safford, this is the first time time she has visited a food bank in years.
She said after being laid off by a Safford mine a year ago, she has been unable to get work. Her 19-year-old daughter and 23 and 26 year-old-sons were also unable to hold down jobs with the economy.
“There was no work in the area,” she said, hoping Payson has more opportunities.
Her 26-year-old son said he never thought his family would visit a food bank.
A number of Rim Country families find themselves either laid off or working fewer hours. In August, the unemployment rate was 8.1 percent in Payson. With little to no income, most are living paycheck to paycheck.
This holiday season is expected to be especially hard on families out of work and food banks are struggling to keep up with demand.
On Thursday, Mayor Kenny Evans announced a community wide food drive.
Known as the Payson Area Food Drive (PAF), Evans hopes to raise 50,000 pounds of food and $20,000 in cash donations by Feb. 6. Food and money raised will be distributed evenly to St. Vincent, Community Presbyterian Church, the Pine/Strawberry Food Bank and two other churches.
Roger Kreimeyer, chairperson of PAF said he does not want to see any family go hungry this winter.
“The significant down turn in the economy has been especially difficult for workers and families in Payson,” Kreimeyer said. “The need for food assistance has grown significantly. It is expected that the need will be very large this winter, especially after the holiday season.”
Kreimeyer said if you have never been without, it is hard to explain the feeling of not being able to provide a hot meal for your family.
Growing up with a single parent, Kreimeyer said his family was forced to eat onion sandwiches because his mother could not afford anything else.
“A lot of breadwinners today are under stress to earn an honest dollar,” he said. “By giving them food, you reduce stress and maybe free up money to pay bills.”
Working with a group of community leaders, Kreimeyer is currently setting up the food drive with area churches, businesses, government offices, health providers, youth groups, the Boy Scouts and service clubs.
“We want everyone to participate,” he said.
Once organized, Kreimeyer plans to have boxes placed at businesses around town. On Saturday, PAF will have a booth at the health fair for donations and Boy Scouts will soon be going door to door for donations.
“We recognize that there are existing food drives going on and we don’t want to diminish them,” he said. “We are available to support and assist them.”
The last major food drive in Payson was held last year by the Post Office. It raised 7,000 pounds.
So far, the PAF has received a check from the Rotary Club for $1,500. Additional checks can be mailed to PAF Food Drive, P.O. Box 703, Payson, AZ 85547.
“I know we can reach 50,000 pounds,” he said, “because Payson has a wonderful heart. I just hope people dig deeper than they have in the past because we need additional food.”
Kreimeyer pointed out that PAF can easily reach its goal of 50,000 pounds if each person in Payson donated one can a month.
“Every time you go shopping, buy an extra can of food,” he said.
Parent said he is excited about the PAF drive and hopes it brings copious amounts of food.
“From my perspective, I think it is a wonderful if anyone wants to help the disadvantaged,” Parent said. “I will help in anyway I can.”
In October, when demand was up, Parent said the community stepped up and delivered.
He pointed out that the government gave 6,500 pounds to St. Vincent in October and another 9,600 was bought. Another 10,200 pounds was donated by the community.
Kreimeyer and Parent want to see this giving continue. “Let us show that Payson cares about our neighbors and children that need food,” Kreimeyer said. “Let’s help Payson families get over the temporary rough times.”