The goal: No hungry children in Payson.
So the organizers of this year’s Payson Area Food Drive brought a giant squirrel to the Payson Town Council meeting Thursday to collect donations from the council — and appeal for support.
“The need for food right now is the strongest it’s been in three years,” said food drive chairman Roger Kreimeyer, in an appearance before the council accompanied by PAFD’s costumed mascot.
This year, backers hope to top last year’s totals by about 10 percent — which means they need 55,000 pounds of food and $30,000.
“Three months ago, the St. Vincent de Paul food bank ran out of meat,” said Kreimeyer. “A few weeks ago, the other food bank ran out of food completely.”
Chuck Proudfoot, pastor at Community Presbyterian Church, confirmed Kreimeyer’s remarks, saying the church-run food bank closed its doors two days last month when it ran out of food.
On Friday, the food bank was at risk of closing again, when it received a much-needed donation.
Arizona Control Specialists, a Mesa-based company, dropped off 1,780 pounds of food, enough to keep the small food bank open for a month, Proudfoot said.
The company collected the food during one of its regular employee food drives. How it ended up in Payson is a miracle, Proudfoot said.
Recently, when Roger Freeman, a member of the church, was on a cruise, he met the owners of Arizona Control Specialists.
After talking, Arizona Control offered the food bank a donation and on Friday delivered, dropping off 20 cases of Top Ramen, among other food items.
That donation is one the largest food donations received so far in this year’s area food drive, which launched just a few weeks ago.
At Thursday’s meeting, Payson Mayor Kenny Evans announced that the food drive had on that day received a $5,000 pledge from a donor.
“I’m getting wonderful community support,” said Kreimeyer, “but we’ve got a long ways to go. These are our neighbors. We’ve got young families with children — and a lot of seniors. So any help you can give us, we’re going to appreciate.”
This is the third year for the PAFD and this year, organizers have rallied to provide a big increase in donations to area food banks.
Proudfoot said his food bank and the nearby St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank badly need the extra help.
At Community Presbyterian Church, demand has increased one-third in just the last month. Unfortunately, supplies have taken a hit, with Valley food distributors dolling out fewer shipments.
Donations from the PAFD “keep us afloat,” he said.
The food banks and the thousands of people who rely on them hope Rim Country residents will once again prove generous this year.
“Our goal is that we have no hungry families in Payson,” said Kreimeyer.
Since the start of the slump, the number of Payson Unified School District students from families poor enough to qualify for free and reduced priced lunches has increased from about 40 percent of students to about 70 percent.
Proudfoot said he has seen an increase in need from working families. Although both parents may have a job, it is not enough to buy food and pay rent.
“I always tell people, if you have a choice between paying your mortgage and buying food, pay your mortgage because I can get you food, but I cannot get you mortgage help,” he said.
Longhorn Meat Processing has agreed to process, bundle and freeze for free any elk or deer brought in by hunters. The meat would then go to the food drive.
Payson Councilor John Wilson urged hunters this season to donate meat if they can — or at least donate any meat left from last year’s hunt.
Drop off food at any PAFD-labeled box. Boxes are placed throughout town, including at the grocery stores, town hall and the Payson Roundup. Send checks to PAFD, P.O. Box 703, Payson, AZ 85547.