With only 27 measly turkeys in the freezer at St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank a week before Thanksgiving, it looked like needy families would have to go without a feast this year.
But the Payson Area Food Drive (PAFD) got a huge boost in donations just in time for the big day with Turkey Tuesday bringing in 380 turkeys — all donated by the local community. Added with other food donations and the PAFD collected more than 21,800 pounds in just the last two weeks.
At a PAFD meeting Thursday morning, organizers sat astounded by the volume of donations given in such a short time and credited the community’s ever-growing giving spirit.
With the turkeys, 315 families celebrated Thanksgiving — a miracle considering St. Vincent thought it would have to cancel turkey boxes.
Wayne Parent, a volunteer with St. Vincent, said they could have given out more turkeys, but they limited the number of sign ups when they only had two-dozen collected.
“We got a little panicky with only a few turkeys and cut off the sign up list,” he said.
St. Vincent will hand out the extra turkeys around Christmas.
In addition to food donations, the PAFD had a huge windfall of monetary contributions, totaling $4,100 on Turkey Tuesday.
Parent said they received so many donations, St. Vincent’s storage room floor was littered with bags and bags of food with almost 700 pounds of potatoes among that donated.
The scene was a welcome sight.
Food shipments from the Valley St. Vincent have been cut in half, with food banks there struggling to meet demand as well as supplement outside area food banks like Payson’s.
In October, Payson’s St. Vincent did not get a shipment from the Valley food bank and government pallets of food have been cut in half, which is severely crippling supply. It has also been six months since Payson’s St. Vincent, the area’s largest food bank, received a shipment of meat. That means St. Vincent can only afford to hand out hot dogs.
Luckily, the PAFD has launched and local donations are helping supplement any shortfalls, said Michael Haynes, St. Vincent’s food bank manager.
“Payson really makes up for any loss,” Parent said.
Donations are already going to use.
In November, the number of families needing a food box from St. Vincent increased 3 percent from the 574 boxes handed out in October.
Roughly 2,000 people received food from the St. Vincent, with an additional 431 picking up food from the Community Presbyterian Church Food Bank on Main Street.
“A lot of people are paying attention and they realize that with these economic times more people need help,” Parent said. “We have food coming in as fast as it is going out.”
This year, the PAFD has set a goal of collecting 55,000 pounds of food and $30,000 in donations by Super Bowl Sunday.
With the recent rash of donations, the drive is well on its way to making that goal, but PAFD chair Roger Kreimeyer cautioned they still need the community’s help.
Volunteers have placed donation boxes all over town, including at supermarkets, banks, government buildings, schools and many local businesses, including the Roundup.
Volunteers help make the PAFD happen, Kreimeyer said. Community leaders from all areas are chipping in to help. The steering committee alone has 22 volunteers, each with a different area to cover.
Jan Parsons is soliciting health care providers for donations. Her group recently handed out 600 grocery bags to two-dozen health facilities, encouraging employees to each fill up a bag.
Hallie Jackman is leading a charge of service club volunteers, who stand out front of Walmart collecting donations and encouraging people to donate even one can of food.
Pastor Richard Richey is working with local churches for collections and Payson Town Councilor John Wilson is handling the finances.
The Payson Youth Advisory Council is helping, posting fliers around town and helping organize a school food drive and the Future Business Leaders are selling lollipops at the high school in hopes of raising $1,000.
With everyone working together, the PAFD will hopefully exceed its goal and collect enough food to last well through next year, Kreimeyer said.
To donate, send checks to PAFD, P.O. Box 703, Payson, AZ 85547 or leave food in any PAFD labeled collection box.