Midday, three times a week, a line steadily forms in the open parking lot at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank.
Some come in fancy pickups and some come in old vans, some are tall and some are short. Some are old and some young, with a family of kids trailing behind.
The faces of the hungry in Payson vary, but they all have one thing in common — a need. Luckily, local food banks can cover that need after a three-month food drive brought in a record number of donations.
The economy’s slow recovery is affecting a growing number of residents. Many are laid off or working fewer hours. With positions cut, finding a new job is difficult.
“There is such a need for people in the community to know that while the recession may officially be over, families are still struggling,” said Mary Chou-Thompson, communications manager for St. Vincent.
Families and individuals won’t have to wonder this year about a warm meal.
Thanks to more than $27,000 and 50,000 pounds of food collected during the Payson Area Food Drive (PAFD), local food banks should have enough to cover any want.
That is good because according to a 2010 survey by the Arizona Association of Food Banks, Arizona food banks saw an 85 percent increase in the number of individuals and families receiving food from 2006 to 2009.
“Families that have never asked for help are coming to us for emergency food boxes and rental assistance,” Chou-Thompson said.
And that may pose the biggest challenge — convincing residents to take the food, said Roger Kreimeyer, PAFD chair.
“I have come across families that are hesitant to accept a donation,” he said, “but let us help you and free up some of your money for bills. We really would like to assist.”
Last year, donations collected through the PAFD lasted through 2010, with organizers writing a check to St. Vincent in January.
Kreimeyer hopes this year’s donations last just as long.
“How can I express my gratitude for all the wonderful donations,” he said.
In today’s economy, he added, it is harder for everyone to give, but this community pulled through, like it always does.
Volunteers placed cardboard donation boxes out in late November with the food drive lasting through Super Bowl weekend.
A last-minute push by the Boy Scouts and churches brought this year’s total of 50,000 pounds of food — close to the 55,000-pound goal.
Monetary donations came in $2,000 over this year’s goal and $5,000 over last year’s drive.
“That $5,000 will allow us to buy the other 5,000 pounds of food we need,” Kreimeyer said.
Donations continue to stream in, so organizers could reach their goal.
“It is only through food drives and volunteers that we are able to meet the needs of struggling families. We cannot say enough to thank the organizers of the food drive and those who donated because they are the ones who make our work possible,” Chou-Thompson said.
“People have been very, very generous,” Kreimeyer said. “I think because they know it all stays here in Payson.”
Volunteers distribute food and money to St. Vincent, Community Presbyterian Church and the Pine-Strawberry food banks as needed.