With triple the need and a dramatic decline in food deliveries, local food banks are once again struggling to keep their shelves stocked as the busy holiday season approaches.
So for a fifth year, organizers have launched the Payson Area Food Drive, a community-wide event benefiting regional food banks. Since the drive started in 2009, the community has donated a total of $136,000 in cash and 225,700 pounds of food.
This year, organizers have set a goal of collecting $25,000 and 25,000 pounds by Christmas.
“The need is real, the cupboards are bare and the money has run out,” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans.
Several weeks ago, drive treasurer John Wilson wrote a $10,000 check to the St. Vincent de Paul food bank, emptying the coffers from last year’s drive.
Wilson said they had hoped the money would stretch through the end of the year, but recently, food deliveries from the Valley have dried up and St. Vincent has had to buy food from local grocers to meet demand.
St. Vincent, the largest food bank in the area, traditionally gets food through three channels: the Valley St. Vincent, the federal food program and local donations.
The food bank buys food at a steep discount through the federal program and Valley food banks, but those deliveries have fallen off as the need has increased dramatically around the state and country.
The need has risen in part because of recent cuts to the food stamp program. More people are relying on food banks to supplement what they used to cover with food stamps, said James Bridges with St. Vincent. “In addition, deliveries from the Valley have dropped and we were told we won’t get more than one shipment this month.”
But the drive is at a disadvantage this year. It is starting three weeks later than its normal kickoff in October. And instead of running three months, traditionally through Super Bowl Sunday, organizers are making a big one-month push for donations Thanksgiving through Christmas.
Evans admitted the drive almost didn’t happen this year after PAFD founder Roger Kreimeyer decided to take a year off to help his son launch a business in the Valley.
“We have had four successful food drives here in Payson, but we have experienced a bit of a challenge in that the individual that has been the leader of the drive for the last four years and done an absolute superlative job (isn’t available this year),” he said. “We are going to be winging this without Roger Kreimeyer who has just been an absolute gem of a leader for us.”
Organizers last year had difficulties coordinating the efforts of the local food banks, after local St. Vincent de Paul co-presidents expressed concerns about whether the community-wide drive might hurt their own efforts.
After “substantial” talk in early fall of skipping the drive, town manager Debra Galbraith intervened and said the drive must continue because “we still have many poor and needy families in this community who need help, we can’t just let this die.”
Evans and Galbraith recruited Pat Johnson to take over as chair. Johnson said she is excited about taking on the challenge. Despite the late start this year, she is confident the community will rally and donate.
“What is really key for people to realize is the need has tripled and there has been a decrease in federal and corporate support,” she said.
This year, however, things will run a little differently.
Instead of combining donations given directly to the PAFD with donations to both the St. Vincent and the Community Presbyterian Church food banks, this year the total will include only direct donations to the Payson Area Food Drive. Those donations will then be funneled to the local food banks.
Evans and Galbraith said the PAFD is not in competition with any food bank or drive. People can donate to PAFD, the Community Presbyterian Church or St. Vincent de Paul.
“We are not here to compete with them, but supplement what they are doing,” Evans said.
Donations given through the PAFD will benefit all regional food banks, including those in Tonto Basin and Pine-Strawberry.
The drive kicks off Monday with boxes set up at Bashas’, Safeway, Walmart, Payson Town Hall, the library, parks and recreation and most town offices.
“As successful as we have been, we need people to roll up their sleeves and regardless of their circumstances know there are people in a world of hurt and need here,” Evans said. “We don’t want to be known as a town with families that are hungry.”
Chuck Proudfoot, with Community Presbyterian Church, said it isn’t just families that are coming in for help. Many older adults on fixed incomes are seeking help for the first time.
Send checks to PAFD, P.O. Box 703, Payson, AZ 85547.
“The need we have is greater than the $25,000, but we’ll shoot for that and I am praying we go over it,” Wilson said.
After Christmas, another big change to the PAFD is its continuance.
Instead of ending the drive then, it will continue all year. Different service groups will organize collection efforts each month.