Economic Downturn Hits Rim Country Families Hard

Food bank cupboard nearly bare

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The cupboards are empty. A stockpile of funds has dried up.

The food bank is broke.

St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank officials say they have less than $200 in the bank and are having to turn people away who desperately need money to help pay their bills.

Lynn Canning, Society of St. Vincent de Paul vice president, said this is the first time in four years the food bank’s funds have dipped so low.

“We are in a crisis,” she said.

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The Christopher Creek food drive is starting this Friday.

Making matters worse, the various non-profit groups to which St. Vincent normally sends the needy when it runs low on supplies are also struggling to meet demand.

The Gila County Community Action Program (CAP) is reportedly out of funds until mid July and the Payson Salvation Army is also running low.

Payson Town Council member John Wilson at the Monday town council meeting reported that half of the $35,000 raised through the community food drive and most of the 50,000 pounds of food have already been distributed, with demand remaining high. The Payson Area Food Drive hopes to keep the doors of the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank open with additional donations.

Officials believe a combination of unemployment, increasing costs and the lingering recession are increasing the number of people struggling to pay their bills.

Many residents are not aware St. Vincent provides more than food, Canning said.

While half of the operation out of the food bank, at 511 S. St. Phillips Street, is dedicated to handing out food baskets, the other half houses volunteers working to help people pay their bills.

Normally, the charity has enough donated money to help a few residents pay their electric bill, part of their rent, get gas or help cover a medical expense. However, many more residents than normal have been asking for help recently, said Adolfo Burciaga, St. Vincent president.

“We have been inundated with requests,” he said.

Burciaga believes more people are turning to St. Vincent because organizations, like CAP, are out of funds.

“That took a big hit on us (CAP running out of money), because they are now coming to us because we are the only one left,” he said.

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Number of individuals served by day in May

In a normal week, St. Vincent volunteers make three to five home visits. During home visits, volunteers assess an applicant’s need, verify where the money will be spent and offer moral and spiritual support. The money may go to help pay a utility bill, prevent eviction or pay medical bills.

In the last few weeks, however, volunteers have been making as many as nine home visits a day.

With no money to hand out, spiritual support is the only thing volunteers can offer.

“Whether we have money or not, we are spiritual,” Canning said.

Sometimes volunteers can make a difference with advice and emotional support, Burciaga said.

Recently, a senior citizen couple was struggling to pay the mortgage. They were living in a larger home than they needed and so with help from the group agreed to downsize to a smaller apartment. Thanks to the savings on rent, the couple no longer needs assistance from St. Vincent.

Sadly, many more people do not have this option given unforeseen medical bills or a job loss.

At any one time, St. Vincent will only give a household $200 to help cover expenses.

At the beginning of the year, the group had more than $70,000 in the bank thanks in part to the Payson Area Food Drive that brought in a record $35,000, half of that going directly to the food bank. The other half is being used to buy food only.

After five months, Canning said the food bank is down to $200.

On average, 75 percent of people that request financial assistance from St. Vincent have done so in the past.

Regardless if we gave them money in the past, we always make a home visit to make sure they really need the help, Burciaga said.

“We don’t want to become a crutch,” Canning said.

PAFD

Fortunately, the Payson Area Food Drive has stepped in to help.

Roger Kreimeyer, chair of the PAFD, met with St. Vincent officials Tuesday and worked out a plan to help buy groceries.

Normally, St. Vincent gets shipments of food from the larger, Valley St. Vincent organization as well as the government program United.

Those shipments have dwindled as the Valley St. Vincent struggles to meet demand there.

The Payson Area Food Drive has agreed to supplement food supplies, giving the food bank $3,000 to buy perishable products locally and another $500 to buy food from United.

Kreimeyer expects at that rate, the PAFD can support the local food banks for roughly five months.

“We are giving them the majority of the support right now,” he said. “We hope we have enough for the next few months.”

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