The Payson Area Food Drive is kicking off early this year, launching Saturday to reach its biggest goal yet.
Organizers hope to collect 65,000 pounds of food and $50,000 by Feb. 3, Super Bowl Sunday.
Since the first drive in 2009, the community has donated $82,000 and 170,200 pounds of food — each dollar and can of food staying local, said Roger Kreimeyer, drive founder and chair.
As the need has risen each year, so has the PAFD’s goal. This year is no different, he said.
Substantial federal and Valley food donations that local food banks used to count on each week have all but stopped.
That means the shelves at St. Vincent de Paul and Community Presbyterian Church’s food banks rely entirely on local donations.
Wayne Parent, a volunteer with St. Vincent, said they went 80 days without getting any food shipments from the Valley St. Vincent, a loss of 20,000 pounds of food.
Last week, the food bank got its first pallets of food since July. Volunteers here said the Valley food banks simply have no food to spare as need has risen all across the state.
When the Rim Country food banks did get food several months ago, it was mainly candy, said Michael Haynes, food bank manager.
“They were giving us what they had,” Parent said.
Making matters worse, the $35,000 collected during last year’s food drive just ran out.
That means St. Vincent doesn’t have the money to buy meat or toiletries.
Haynes said it’s been six months since they received a shipment from the Valley or United, their federal supplier of food.
Chuck Proudfoot, with Community Presbyterian Church food bank, said a few generous donors have helped them keep their shelves at least partly stocked.
He said the demand has remained consistent, with more working poor coming in on their lunch breaks to pick up food boxes.
About 70 percent of people that visit St. Vincent qualify for food stamps, a 50 percent increase from last year, Parent said.
In a typical month, they hand out as much as 30,000 pounds of food.
Community Presbyterian gives about a third of that, Proudfoot said.
With demand as high as ever, PAFD officials decided to bump up this year’s goal.
Kreimeyer expects to receive a $10,000 donation soon to help kick off the drive.
Hallie Overman-Jackman, who is heading up the PAFD service club committee, said it would be a miracle in this economy if they can beat last year’s totals of 68,200 pounds and $35,000.
Proudfoot noted last year’s drive almost didn’t make its goal, but a number of last-minute donations pushed it over anyone’s estimates.
This year’s drive is already starting out well. On Tuesday, Haynes said he got five large donations of food from concerned residents.
He said it was quite surprising because he doesn’t normally get 500 pounds of food donated in one day.
“It was great,” he said. “I was running out of stuff to put it on.”
The food drive officially kicks off Saturday. Bring a can or two to the Harvest Festival. The free festival is from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday at Payson First Church of the Nazarene, 200 E. Tyler Parkway.
The festival will feature hayrides, a bonfire, free treats for children, pumpkin judging and food.
Any monetary donations are tax deductible through the working poor credit.
For more information, contact Kreimeyer at (928) 468-1365 or lindaorroger@ yahoo.com.