With the holidays now past, donations to the Payson Area Food Drive have slowed down considerably.
While the drive was doing so well a month ago that organizers decided to bump the 55,000-pound goal up 10,000 pounds, so far in January, donations have all but dried up.
PAFD treasurer John Wilson said he has only received one $30 check since the start of the New Year.
The food drive runs through Super Bowl Sunday — or Souper-Bowl — and the drive’s steering committee hopes to see an influx of donations in the next month to meet the ever-growing demand from local food banks.
Payson’s St. Vincent de Paul did not receive a shipment of food from the Valley St. Vincent in December and food bank manager Michael Haynes does not know if he will get food from them in January.
That means there are 12 less pallets of food for the food bank, which has seen the number of needy ise consistently in the past few years.
Where the food bank was only open three days, now it is open four. Where a small trailer was enough room to house stock, the church has built on an addition and where the food drive once supplemented the food bank, it is now supplying it.
Last year, St. Vincent gave out 361,500 pounds of food to 34,000 people. Food came from a combination of sources, including Valley food banks, the federal United Food Bank, donations and buying $40,000 worth of groceries out of pocket.
“That is too much,” Haynes said.
He added that another food bank is badly needed in town and although the Community Presbyterian Church is now serving as a food bank as well, St. Vincent cannot handle the load by itself.
“We keep getting bigger,” he said.
“Well we want to share the burden,” said Roger Kreimeyer, PAFD chair, who started the food drive three years ago.
The PAFD started when the economy crashed, creating a need among the unemployed and working poor who could no longer afford to pay bills and buy food, he said. Not wanting to see anyone go hungry, Kreimeyer organized the drive and every year it has collected more and more donations from the community.
In this final push of the drive, residents can donate in several ways.
The first is dropping food off at any PAFD marked box located at businesses and government agencies around town. Checks can be sent to PAFD, P.O. Box 703, Payson, AZ 85547. There are also several upcoming food drives. The high school will hold a food drive and a soup kitchen later this month and a winter carnival is scheduled for Jan. 21.
The carnival will be held at the LDS Church, 913 S. Ponderosa St., from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission is two cans of food. There will be a magician, games and free hot dogs and drinks.
For the future, Kreimeyer is thinking of new ways to help.
At Thursday’s PAFD steering committee meeting, Kreimeyer suggested a community garden. Families could grow food for their own needs and a larger garden could be used to grow crops that are canned and handed out at the food banks. Pastor Rich Richey of Payson’s First Church of the Nazarene said the church has five acres of open land, with its own well, that could be used for the garden. All that is needed is some fencing to get started.
Richey suggested contacting the high school’s agricultural program and getting students involved in the idea. Payson Councilor John Wilson suggested selling out small parcels that residents could use to garden. There was a similar program in the Valley where his family grew crops for a number of years, Wilson said.
Although the idea is new, Kreimeyer said they could have seeds in the ground by next year if others get behind the idea.
Another suggestion is a community soup kitchen.
Pastor Chuck Proudfoot with Community Presbyterian Church said several churches are working to get one started.
Mt. Cross Lutheran, Payson United Methodist, St. Paul’s Episcopal and Community Presbyterian are in talks to hold a soup kitchen at the Mount Cross Lamona Conference Center once a month with the goal to eventually hold it every night.
While still in the forming stage, the soup kitchen could be open by summer with weekly meals made by volunteers.
United Food Bank would supply the food and because food donations would vary, it would be a soup dinner only, Proudfoot said.
“The goal long term is a feeding program that is seven days a week,” he said.
The group is working out the details of the program, including getting food handler cards and enough volunteers to help with preparation and cleanup.
The group hopes the program will feed 150 people on average — this is roughly how many Mountain Bible feeds at a Monday community dinner.