On Tuesday, more than 20 volunteers for the Pine-Strawberry Food Bank provided food to about 110 households, feeding 230 residents.

Folks in need filed in to the community center in Pine, maintaining a safe distance from others, to collect bags of food.

Individuals walked out with smiles in their eyes, as most were wearing masks, with grocery carts full of needed items thanks to the more than 30 volunteers and the generous donations from individuals.

“We even had toilet paper,” said volunteer Rochelle Impiccini, who wiped down grocery carts between users.

Volunteers said they loved serving friends and neighbors in need.

P-S Food Bank officials thanked the Ponderosa Market for helping order food and store it; Uncle Tom’s/Pine Ice for providing freezer space to store food; the Mountain Village Foundation for lending supplies and equipment; the Gila County Sheriff’s Office who helped remind people to observe social distancing and the Pine Strawberry Fire District and Community Emergency Response Team for standing by to provide support and education.

If you are interested in helping the P-S Food Bank, call 623-696-0087 or find the Pine-Strawberry Food Bank on Facebook.

In other news, the Senior Center Dining Hall in now closed. Chef George and volunteer Sheri Earp are whipping up lunches five days a week for 20 to 25 seniors. Meals on Wheels volunteers are delivering the meals.

If you would like to volunteer as a driver or if you are or know a senior who could benefit from the Meals on Wheels program, call 928-476-2151.

Bandits teams up with

Justice McNeeley FoundationIn response to the concerns of keeping people fed, Bandits and the Justice McNeeley Foundation (JMF) are continuing to help community members from Happy Jack to Tonto Basin.

Bandits owners James and Katie Parks are continuing their delivery program. Customers can stay home, order from their menu and eat well. The unique part is that each meal helps someone else. For every meal sold, Bandits is providing a free hot meal, delivered to a person or family in need.

So far Bandits has provided 255 free dinners, with 80 more going out this week, said Katie.

JMF is now providing boxes of food for the children in Rim Country in need.

Board members amassed a large collection of food and created boxes that will feed breakfast and lunch (plus snacks) for a child for about three days.

If you would like to donate food, drop it off at Bandits. If you would like to donate to JMF to assist children, go to their website, justicemcneeleyfoundation.org. There is a spot to donate money there. If you are in need or know of someone in need, contact Bandits on their Facebook page or call 928-363-4075.

businesses get creative

P-S businesses typically make most of their money during the summer months. Many owners then save what they can so they can make it through the quieter winter months. Spring signals the return of part-time residents and tourists, and a chance to catch up.

Locals were dealt a tough economic blow in March with the onset of social distancing. Some businesses are getting creative to keep themselves afloat.

Local restaurant owners are finding ways to serve quality hot meals that travel well.

“It’s really hard to travel with our regular menu,” said That Brewery and Pub owner Tamara Morken. “Hamburger buns and salads don’t travel well so we have tried to modify our menu.”

Smoked meats were the direction Morken and her chef decided to take.

“Chef Val Yeager brought in two types of smokers,” she said. “Brisket, chicken and ribs are up this week and we are selling them by the pound. We started fermenting vegetables selling them in Mason jars and it travels well and be used for several meals.”

Down the road at Old County Inn (OCI), DIY pizza is a new menu item.

“You get a dough ball, sauce, olive oil, flour and toppings,” said OCI general manager Brandon Wells. “We upload videos on how to stretch the dough. We sold like 60 of them last weekend.”

Randall House has partnered with the Ponderosa Market.

“We are going to be doing lunch and breakfast sandwiches,” said Barbara Frazin-O’Connor with the Randall House. “This gives us an extra avenue where people can grab and go and have our same quality food.”

“We are trying to get started on family style dinners as well,” Frazin-O’Connor said. “Not everyone likes to cook and people still like our food. They can have a family meal with our quality.”

Owners are not only focused on their customer base, or their own bottom line, employees are top of mind.

Morken has already had to lay off five workers, Wells said four volunteered to quit and Frazin-O’Connor said they laid off four workers.

“They are welcome back — no one is getting fired,” said Frazin-O’Connor. “I’m trying to get creative on other work people can do.” She has one person cleaning once a week and another doing paperwork. Her prep cook, while still employed, also takes care of his 85-year-old father. He shows up at 4:30 a.m. to complete his tasks and avoid contact with others.

“I helped them all apply for the hospitality grants and unemployment,” said Morken. Customers have also donated to a fund for those employees that aren’t working now. Morken adds to that fund, giving gift cards, gas money and groceries to employees.

“The second we can open up for normal business they will all be back,” Morken added.

Wells and one other employee are taking care of curbside and takeout. As a manager, he does not keep tips. He is tipping out his cooking staff and then spreading the rest on those employees who are not working.

Each business reports that sales are down 30% to 50% from this time last year.

Morken and Wells report locals and travelers are using the takeout service.

“I have people calling every single day from the Valley,” said Wells. “They are just driving up to get takeout. To be honest, it’s cool.”

Morken is seeing the same thing.

What are other businesses doing to get through this time? Email me at myndibrogdon@msn.com.

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