Thanks to several matching grants, the Payson Area Food Drive has raised its goal despite a late start this year.
Organizers now hope to collect $40,000 by Christmas and are well on their way to meeting even that goal.
The community has already donated $31,500 since the drive started around Thanksgiving, said drive treasurer John Wilson.
All of the money donated stays in Rim Country, benefiting several local food banks that have been strapped for donations as federal and Valley shipments decreased. A cut in federal food stamp support has also increased the need locally.
Michael Haynes, with St. Vincent de Paul’s Payson food bank, said it has been five months since they received a shipment of food from the Valley St. Vincent. That food bank acts as a hub for donations and divvies food up to ancillary food banks around the state. In years past, local food banks have received substantial help from Valley donations.
Haynes said the Valley food banks just aren’t getting the same volume of donations and don’t have food to ship to small food banks like Payson. In addition, shipments from United Food Bank, a federal program that serves eastern Maricopa, Gila, Pinal, southern Navajo and southern Apache counties, is only making one truck delivery to Payson a month.
That means two-thirds of the food Payson’s St. Vincent hands out comes from the community.
“We have been hurting for food, but the town has been coming through with food,” Haynes said, noting people are dropping off food donations at their doorstep on a near daily basis.
Haynes said he is impressed and grateful for the community’s support, including drives by local businesses.
On Saturday, Steve Coury Ford in Star Valley donated food from its ChariTree drive. In total, the dealership collected more than 3,400 food items, all of which will be donated to the PAFD, said Chris Walsh with Kiwanis of Zane Grey Country and the Rim Country Business Coalition.
Decorated Christmas trees were donated for the event, which were bid on Saturday. A silent and live auction raised about $1,000.
In addition, local community groups held their own collections and donated those items Saturday. First place went to the Payson Elks Lodge, which collected 624 items, the Payson Senior Circle took second with 465 items and Mayor’s Choice went to Kaitie’s Closet with 384 cans of food; fourth place went to Payson Community Kids with 370 items and fifth place, Rim Country Literacy with 234 items.
“We are happy with the results for this inaugural event and look forward to making a bigger impact next year,” Walsh said.
In addition to food donations, the Gila County Board of Supervisors offered a $10,000 challenge grant, which the community met.
A family has also offered a $10,000 challenge grant, of which the food drive has raised $7,180, Wilson said.
This same family offered a challenge grant last year too.
If the drive can meet that grant, it should hit the new $40,000 goal, Wilson said.
Send contributions to PAFD, P.O. Box 703, Payson, AZ 85547.
HUNGER IN ARIZONA
Arizona Hunger Statistics show Arizona is tied as the worst state in the U.S. for child hunger and fifth worst for overall food insecurity.
-- 1 in 4 children; 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 7 seniors don’t consistently get enough to eat.
-- 888,100 Arizonans received emergency food assistance in 2009, an 85 percent increase from 2006.
-- Almost half of those were children under the age of 18. Some 74 percent of households lived below the federal poverty line, defined as $22,050 annually for a family of four.
-- 77 percent of households experienced food insecurity.
Source: United Food Bank