“Do you think anyone wants Gefilte fish?” a food bank volunteer asks, holding up a large jar with floating brown masses inside.
“If we got it, put it in the box,” another volunteer says.
From one week to the next, volunteers scramble to put food boxes together at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank, 511 S. St. Phillips Street.
With federal and Valley food shipments decreased due to the economy, the food bank is relying more on local donations, which can range from the decadent to the strange. From black truffle oil and capers to garlic hummus, the food bank’s shelves sometimes look more like a fancy supermarket.
And with hunger and poverty still on the rise in Payson, food bank officials were happy to raise $14,000 during its annual Friends of the Poor Walk held Sept. 24.
“I was really thrilled to death,” said Lynn Canning, Society of St. Vincent de Paul vice president.
Last year, the one-mile walk raised about $8,000. In the days leading up to this year’s walk, organizers were unsure they would top last year’s total, with only $7,000 raised. However, on the day of the walk, an additional $7,000 came in.
The money helps cover the cost of food shipments from the Valley and other client needs, such as paying rent for people facing the threat of homelessness and utility bills — or sometimes fill up their gas tanks.
While all food donations are appreciated, organizers say they need more staples. Canned tuna, vegetables, peanut butter, pet food and toiletries are in high demand, but in short supply.
“We could really use products like toiletries, shampoo, toothpaste — anything that people need, but don’t have the money to buy,” said volunteer Wayne Parent.
“When they have to make that decision to have shampoo or soap or eat, they usually get food.”
When volunteers came in Saturday and found a shelf of toilet paper, they said it would go fast, with each box getting a roll or two.
On any of the four days the food bank is open each week, they hand out dozens of boxes. In a typical month, 750 food baskets are given out to help nearly 2,000 local residents.
A volunteer puts each box together, scouring the shelves in a back room market of sorts. While requests are taken, they normally go unfilled. One woman asked for oatmeal — out. Another asked for dog food — out.
Each box gets at least a pack of hot dogs, eggs, butter, canned goods and lots of bread.
Everything else put in is a toss up. Recently, every client received a bag of local apples.
Arizona now has one of the highest poverty rates in the country, especially among children.
In 2009, 20 percent of Gila County was living in poverty, with the state average at 16.5 percent. Among children, 32 percent in Gila County live in poverty, 9 percent more than the state average, and 12 percent more than the national average.
To donate to the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank, mail a check to P.O. Box 1317, Payson, AZ 85547.