A surge of pleas for help has caught local food banks off guard, with record numbers of families coming in for food baskets.
Both the St. Vincent de Paul and Community Presbyterian Church food banks reported handing out an all-time high number of food boxes from the last week of October through the first week of November.
“Things haven’t been normal lately,” said Wayne Parent, food bank manager at St. Vincent.
In the first week of November, 676 people received aid from St. Vincent, a new record. In October, 2,070 people in 624 families received a 50-pound box of food at least once.
“We normally don’t have those kinds of numbers,” Parent said.
Charles Proudfoot, pastor at Community Presbyterian, said the church handed out 341 food bags in October, surpassing their highest number ever. Roughly 350 people were served, which is more than a 100 percent jump from last October when they helped 173 people.
“We are getting more families with children and a lot of seniors,” Proudfoot said.
To help with demand, the Payson Area Food Drive (PAFD) committee is asking for the community’s help in raising 55,000 pounds of food and $25,000 by Super Bowl Sunday.
Last year, more than $20,000 and 50,000 pounds of food were collected through the drive, enough to help keep the shelves stocked through mid December organizers estimate.
“All the food has been dispersed in the community and all but $7,000 has been used out of $24,000,” said Roger Kreimeyer, chair of the PAFD steering committee.
On Tuesday, the food drive kicks off with collection boxes displayed in businesses around town.
It wasn’t until a week ago that organizers decided to hold another communitywide food drive, Kreimeyer explained.
“We made sure this year that the shelves were stocked and everyone who wanted food got it,” he said. “But with several weeks of record levels, we knew we needed to hold another drive.”
This year’s food drive will run through Super Bowl Sunday again.
“We don’t want to do it (PAFD) again, but we need to do it again,” Kreimeyer said.
What is driving a surge in food requests? Parent speculated that more people are out of work or working fewer hours.
Every winter, the food bank sees a surge in requests, but this year’s numbers are breaking all records.
No one knows when demand will peak, but Proudfoot said they are anticipating higher numbers in the weeks to come.
“We can’t tell from our data what will happen, but want to meet the need,” he said.
About 40 percent of St. Vincent’s food comes from local donations. The rest is either purchased from the Valley St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank or donated by the United Food Bank.
“The PAFD has been a godsend,” Parent said.
Money raised from last year’s food drive has been used to buy toiletries and other items infrequently donated, but desperately needed, like perishable items.
“It allowed us to give out larger boxes,” he said. Last year, the average box contained 40 pounds of food and this year, 50 pounds.
“We can do this because we have more,” he said.
The St. Vincent food bank gives away at least 1,800 pounds of food for every day it opens its doors. This is a sharp increase from 15 years ago when Parent started at the food bank and they handed out food from a garage to about 10 or 15 families a week.
With so much demand, Parent said it is an act of faith collecting enough food.
“We don’t know if it will come through, but the community comes through every time. They come together and take care of us.”
Kreimeyer said if every person in Payson gave one can each month, there would be enough food to fill the need.
While one food box can’t fix a family’s financial problems, it can keep them from going hungry at least one more week, Parent said.
On Tuesday, St. Vincent volunteers will hand out 350 turkey boxes, each including everything needed for a Thanksgiving Day feast. That’s around 12,000 to 14,000 pounds of food distributed in under five hours.
“Every 50 seconds we have to put out a food box,” Parent said.
St. Vincent hands out food boxes every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Community Presbyterian Church hands out bags Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to noon.