With a little more than three weeks left in the Payson Area Food Drive, organizers are pushing for a last round of donations as they try to reach their goal of 55,000 pounds of food and $25,000.
So far, Rim Country residents have donated 35,000 pounds and $18,000, said Roger Kreimeyer, Payson Area Food Drive (PAFD) chair.
But those donations are a drop in the bucket when compared with the amount of food the largest Payson area food bank, St. Vincent de
Paul, hands out on a quarterly basis.
From October through December, more than 133,800 pounds of food were handed out to roughly 7,475 people, said Wayne Parent, manager of the food bank. That number includes people who came in more than once.
During the same period in 2009, 96,000 pounds were given away to 7,122 people.
Parent said they continue to see an increase in demand, especially since more people are without jobs in the winter and unable to feed their families, much less pay their bills. Besides providing food boxes three times a week, St. Vincent volunteers make home visits regularly to individuals in need of
more than food.
Ed Burgin, who makes three to four home visits a month, said he is seeing an increase in not only need, but also the severity.
“Many people live marginally in good times so when times get difficult they literally fall and can’t sustain themselves,” he said. “There is a serious need because of our poor economy.”
Home visits are granted when a person comes into the food bank and says they need help paying their rent, utilities, transportation, medical or other costs.
A team of volunteers visits the home to verify their request and offer them moral support.
“The objective is to be a friend to them first of all,” Burgin said, “and let them know who we are.” Once a request is approved, volunteers pay the expense, never giving cash away.
“We are stewards of that money, so we try to make sure it is used properly,” he said.
When Burgin began making home visits a year ago, monetary requests were smaller. People had most of the money needed to pay rent, for example, and only needed a few hundred to make up the difference.
This year, “people don’t have any of it,” he said.
Burgin credits the slumped economy for the increase in demand and the off season.
“Businesses that retain workers through the off season, they reduce their hours so everyone gets some income, but single people especially, they can’t pay their bills,” he said. “They get their utilities cut off and then they are evicted.”
The food bank does not see many homeless people, but do serve families and singles and an increasing number of seniors.
And it’s not just the really poor who need help, people that have never needed assistance are asking for food, said Anna Uriost, food bank volunteer.
“We have had a lot of people who have never been here before, but because of the job situation, especially carpenters, they have had to come in because they find themselves in need,” she said.
But it isn’t just trades people, single mothers are also hurting.
When Burgin visits with single mothers, many times their homes are in disrepair because they either do not have the knowledge or the time to make repairs.
“It gets grotesque some times,” he said.
Luckily, St. Vincent has a generous base of donors who make it possible for volunteers like Burgin and Uriost to help.
“This community is so great,” Uriost said.
“There are individuals in this town that are unbelievably generous,” Burgin said.
So far, donations have carried into the new year, a time when donations typically dip.
The community’s continued sense of giving mirrors that of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s mission. The society was founded on the desire to help those in need.
In 1833 France, college student Frédéric Ozanam was inspired to help those suffering in the post revolutionary era. Ozanam’s vision was “to embrace the world in a network of charity.”
Even with so many donations, food bank organizers say they always need more to keep up with demand.
“This is our last-minute push to meet our goal,” Kreimeyer said. The food drive ends Super Bowl Sunday and another 20,000 pounds and $7,000 is still needed.
Kreimeyer encourages all residents to drop off food at any PAFD-labeled box. Boxes are placed throughout town, including at the grocery stores, Payson and Star Valley town halls and the Payson Roundup.
Send checks to PAFD, P.O. Box 703, Payson, AZ 85547.
PAFD upcoming events
• Saturday, Jan. 22 at 11 a.m.
A free screening of Yogi Bear at the Sawmill Theatres for anyone who brings at least two cans of food.
• Saturday, Jan. 29 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
A Community Winter Carnival at the LDS Church, 913 S. Ponderosa St. Admission is two cans of food.
Free games for children, a magician show along with a play starring Woody the PAFD mascot and the wolf. Children can get their picture taken with Woody free, courtesy of Walgreens.