United Food Bank in Mesa

A happy increase in volunteers helped the United Food Bank in Mesa meet the increasing needs of families. 

An unexpected rise in community support has spared Mesa’s United Food Bank from a catastrophic staffing shortfall. 

That assessment by spokesman Tyson Nansel contrasted sharply with the stress that the virus has created for other food banks, as well as the Mesa-based food packing operation run by Save My Starving Children.

Prospects for the United Food Bank at 358 E. Javelina Ave. were grim a week ago, said Nansel, because 90 percent of volunteer group visits were canceled as fears over the virus’ spread intensified.

The food bank saw its depleted volunteer ranks recover as the result of school cancellations.

The development was welcomed news for Nansel and the rest of the food bank staff, who are tasked with assembling roughly 21,000 emergency food bags—with the volunteer crew reaching 10,000 bags through March 15. 

The agency’s ability to recruit volunteers has been a blessing, Nansel said.

“Without our volunteers building emergency food bags, that means these bags wouldn’t get to our agencies and our agencies wouldn’t be able to get food to those that need it,” Nansel said. “So, we’re grateful for the help that we have right now.”

 “We’ve had a great showing of volunteers – still not as many as we would have had if the corporate groups would have stayed with us, which understandably they can’t because of their safety precautions,” he added. 

“But we’re at a steady pace. I know we probably won’t hit our goal of what we need to get at, but still the demand for food is very high.”

Nansel said the food bank has distributed 1.2 million pounds of food through the first 12 days of March—compared to February’s shipment of 1.6 million pounds over 29 days. 

The drastic increase in demand means that food banks like Nansel’s need more and more people to step up and help out. 

 “Kids aren’t in school and we just need healthy bodies. If kids are home bored, bring them to the food bank,” Nansel said. 

“They’ve been a huge, huge help and then knowing that they can give back to the community at this time of need, you could really see that glimmer of kind of hope that ‘okay, maybe we can get that same amount of food out that we need,’” he added.

Nansel said the food bank’s demand is not going down anytime soon, with the organization’s staff delivering food for upwards of 1,300 households, or 3,900 residents, as part of the food bank’s ‘Help Yourself Food Distribution’ event. 

“The demand that we have is high,” he said. “So, any person that is healthy, we could use their help as well.” 

Nansel asks that anyone that would like to volunteer or donate money do so by visiting the agency’s website, at www.unitedfoodbank.com. 

“If someone is willing to help but isn’t feeling well or are at that high-risk area of the coronavirus that could potentially harm them, if they want to give back, please donate to United Food Bank,” he said. “For every dollar we can help provide five meals.” 

The situation was far starker at St. Mary’s Food Bank, the largest in the metro region.

“Incoming food from grocery stores and food drives has virtually stopped,” St. Mary’s President/CEO Tom Kertis posted on its website. 

“Combined, these areas typically bring in NINE semi-trucks of food per week,” he said. “Today, we have enough food but we may need to purchase food in the near future to offset this shortfall.”

St. Mary’s also encountered a 75 percent drop in volunteers and group cancellations, forcing the food bank to redeploy its staffers to pack food boxes while hiring some temporary help.

Meanwhile, Feed My Starving Children closed all its food-packing operations, including its Alma School Road site – a popular volunteer sport for businesses, groups and individuals.

Citing concerns over spreading the virus, the international nonprofit said it is working on ways to revive the food-packing operations. It said the closure meant it is losing 1 million food packs a day.

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