Arizona Giving & Leading: Food Banks & Hunger

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Find out how Arizona food banks are responding to the challenges of ending hunger. Guests include President and CEO of the Association of Arizona Food Banks Ginny Hildebrand, and Beverly Damore, Chief Operating Officer for the St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance.

Ted Simons: How are Arizona food banks responding to the challenges of ending hunger in difficult economic times? I'll talk to two food bank leaders, but first David Majure takes a look at an East Valley food bank that's been serving those in need for 30 years. It's part of our continuing coverage of Arizona Giving and Leading.

David Majure: Four days a week the Apache Junction Food Bank distributes mountains of food to people in need. Early in the afternoon, volunteers are busy sorting and bagging groceries while dozens of clients line up outside.

Nick Kuzmich: We service families that are low-income. They are able to come in here every 30 days to get food.

Greg Stanton: It's been exactly 30 days since Dale's last visit. The disabled veteran says his SSI and VA benefits don't cover the extra mouths he now must feed.

Dale: my daughter got left by her boyfriend -- husband and she moved back in. And we are taking care of her financially. And her baby.

Nicole: I'm not getting food stamps right now. I have been trying to for the past three months and I got four kids. So that's why I'm here. I have nothing to eat.

Michael: I work as a 99 cent store down the road from my house and i am working minimum wage right now. It's too small of a check to really support me and pay the rent and the bills and food and all that stuff.

Betty Bowes: At least two loaves and a roll.

David Majure: Volunteers like Betty Bowes make this food bank work.

Betty Bowes: These people are hurting. They don't have jobs or homes. They are in financial situations that are depriving them of a basic life necessity: food. So if we can do anything to help ease that pain, then, that's a good thing for everybody.

Nick Kuzmich: All our people are all volunteers. Our Operations manager who is a part-time person, he is the only one that's financially paid. But everybody else is. We have something like over 300 volunteers a year.

Betty Bowes: Have your picture ID and proof of residence.

David Majure: Doors open at 2:00 p.m. clients are asked for a photo ID and proof that they live in the food bank service area. They have to meet poverty guidelines and provide documentation for any dependents. The amount of food they get is based on size of their family.

Nick Kuzmich: we believe we are the largest in this area and we give them the most food.

David Majure: Board President Nick Kuzmich takes pride in how much food the organization collects for its clients. Some of it comes from the St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance.

Nick Kuzmich: We are an agency under contract with them. We get food from them once a week and that's based on the number of families we feed in the previous week. If we had no other food, that would be the minimum requirement that we would give out.

Kevin Voight: This is what we consider the basic minimum for a family of one or two. It's a three to five-day emergency food box.

David Majure: But clients leave the Apache Junction Food Bank with carts full of food. Most of it donated by local grocery stores.

Kevin Voight: If it wasn't for them, 90% of what we have wouldn't be here. I mean, all the extra stuff.

David Majure: the local community is also very giving.

Kevin Voight: People donate here. Whether it be money, whether it be food. There's something about Apache Junction area, people donate.

David Majure: Food and financial donations slow down in the summer months when snow birds go home and others go on vacation. But the number of people seeking help remains on the rise.

Nick Kuzmich: We have increased our families who come here by 30%. Two years ago we were a little over 17,000. Last year was 22,000-plus.

Kevin Voight: I noticed last year, probably around July, I noticed that the vehicles were looking nicer and nicer and nicer, that the people were showing up. And that kind of scared me. Because it tells me that there's a lot more people hurting than we even thought. And, of course, the numbers went up. And that's why I say we don't really feed the hungry. We feed the financially distressed.

David Majure: People like Nicole who hopes this food will last two weeks.

Nicole: It's really important. I'm glad they're here.

David Majure: And Michael who says this is helping him make ends meet.

Michael: I'm very thank grateful for this place. I'm very grateful for Apache Junction that has places like this. Just very happy.

Ted Simons: Here now to talk about the food banks and efforts to end hunger in our state are Ginny Hildebrand, President and CEO of the Association of Arizona Food Banks, and Beverly Damore, Chief Operating Officer for the St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance. She becomes President and CEO of the alliance the 1st of July. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it. We saw how that particular food bank works. In general people hear "food bank" and I think they think they know what it is. What is it?

Ginny Hildebrand: I am going to pitch that to Beverly because she's working at a food bank and really can answer that question very, very well.

Beverly Damore: Sure, okay. We are basically a giant gatherer-in of food and distributor-out of it. We are getting a lot of our food through the grocery stores. You saw that in the video. A lot of manufacturers will directly, they will overproduce on purpose more to in order to give food us to. That's to the tune of 6 million pounds a month. We distribute it out through other nonprofit agencies. So Apache Junction is a good example. Either smaller food banks or pantries or it will be a nonprofit that has a need to feed people. Maybe it's a domestic violence shelter or soup kitchen. If you come to the food bank it looks like a Costco warehouse. It's a very big very efficient operation.

Ted Simons: That's your experience as well?

Ginny Hildebrand: Absolutely. St. Mary's is one of the largest food banks in Arizona and in the nation. Our food banks, United Food Bank here in Mesa area, Desert Mission Food Bank in North Phoenix, Community Food Bank in Tucson, Community Food Bank in Yuma, they all serve all 15 counties in the state. They are putting out a lot of food.

Ted Simons: Are they putting out more food in tough economic times? You would think so but are you seeing that? Are you hearing that?

Ginny Hildebrand: Well, some of the food resources have diminished some. For instance federal commodities that we receive through the US Department of Agriculture. That has decreased about 30%. But we have seen some increases in other areas that have made up for some of that. Not all of it. And so oftentimes our food banks are having to purchase food to fill in the gaps.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, the price of food, the cost of purchase, federal subsidies, all of these things, how does impact? Give us the dynamic here as far as the food bank is concerned.

Beverly Damore: Every time do you something from a dollar standpoint, it doesn't have to be the cost of food. The cost of insurance. Any time you are getting at a family's bottom line it's going to stretch their money elsewhere and the first thing they can give up is food which means they are going to probably show up at our door. The flip side to that is we also have more money, we have to spend more money in order to supplement the food. We get it coming and going.

Ted Simons: So are you seeing more of that? Less of that? Again how is that picture changed here in the past few years?

Beverly Damore: Much, much, much more St. Mary's in particular. We have doubled in terms of the pounds we distributed in the past two years. We have been very quick to say we can only do that because of donors, people donating food, time, and money to the food bank is absolutely critical to our being able to exist. The thing that is my worst nightmare now is that you start to see a little bit of easing in the economy, people are going to forget and we can't let them. Because the people that we are serving are the ones that need the most help and it's going to take them the longest to get out of this.

Ted Simons: Good times and bad times, people donating food, time, and money. What are you seeing, again, it's so difficult to figure out when it's the tough economic situation, do people donate more? Do organizations donate more? Do you see less?

Ted Simons: What our food banks have seen, Ted, is that we have got more people stepping up. Those who have resources realize that these basic needs like food are things they want to contribute to. So we have seen some folks, some corporations, some foundations even step up this in the last couple of years, to a very, a very difficult situation and giving more than they have ever given before.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Are you seeing that as well? The private relationship with private industry and such? Has that changed?

Beverly Damore: Yes. Because i think people are more aware of hunger. As you heard in the piece they were worried because they saw nicer and nicer cars starting to arrive. If anything there's awareness hunger isn't the homeless guy on the street but probably your neighbor struggling. Most of our clients are working. They are just not working enough. So they have either had their hours reduced or they have been furloughed and just whatever it is is impacting their ability to make it all way through the month. And that's why we stepping in. We are providing food to just get them to that next paycheck.

Ted Simons: We talked about food donations and variations there. What are you seeing as far as monetary donations?

Beverly Damore: Our monetary donations are up. We are watching very carefully. Like it's kind of ties back to what my nightmare is now which is people are going to relax and maybe lose the focus they have had on basic human needs because while the rest of us may be catching our breath our clients are certainly not able to do that yet.

Ted Simons: Same thing as for you as well in regards to monetary donations?

Ginny Hildebrand: The recovery of the recession has not caught up with for everyone. So our food banks not only St. Mary's but United, Yuma Community Food Bank was just talking to me today. They are seeing 22,000 people a month at their location in Yuma plus the other agencies that they are serving in Yuma. This is an unprecedented number. Food banks this year are probably going to top out about 140 million pounds of food to people. That means that there are a lot of folks who are depending on food banks. We know from national data that it's a chronic need. Food is not just a one-time, in six months, now it's almost every month. Or every week. And we know that SNAP benefits, food stamps, they don't last very long.

Beverly Damore: Summer is a particularly difficult time. We all distribute more food in the summer than we do during the holidays because kids are out of school so they don't have access to breakfast and lunch programs anymore. Parents are probably having to pay for daycare. Paying more for gas, paying more for their cooling so again it stretches their budget and they are much more likely to come to us needing help. We are seeing it already.

Ted Simons: As far as government cuts to services, in general, and close to home with you, what are you seeing? What is the impact?

Beverly Damore: Ginny can talk a lot about the SNAP program. That's probably the biggest because if a family is trying make it they will rely on food stamps to fill the gap and also the food banks.

Ted Simons: You did mention food stamps as well. But other services and other programs? What are you seeing?

William Harris: Well, the commodity program that I mentioned before, that was cut in the federal budget. So we are seeing fewer commodities coming there through the food banks. They form the basics of a food box with core solid items. What we know is there are other programs like another one called Commodity Supplemental Food Program that's really for seniors and that has a waiting list of 2,000 people in Arizona right now. Folks that are eligible but can't get on the program because there isn't enough caseload. We know that SNAP has been kind of targeted at the congressional level for cuts in the farm bill and in the next budget. We are working with our elected officials trying to help educate them to understand what, in fact, those programs do for households in their districts.

Ted Simons: are they listening?

Ginny Hildebrand: We hope they are listening and are hearing what we are saying.

Ted Simons: What are you saying? How do you get them to listen? How do you make your case?

Beverly Damore: In one sense we are very lucky. Because if you come to visit St. Mary's you can actually see the people. So we were on a tour yesterday and one thing St. Mary's does which not all food banks do is direct client services. A lot of times it's the food out door and it's going some place else. If you come visit us and anyone is welcomed to and if you come to our direct client services center, you are seeing the looks on the faces and the people who are there and it puts a humanity to it and I guarantee anybody we can get there, elected officials leave feeling very, very differently.

Ted Simons: As far as collaboration with government and nonprofits, collaboration, it's not like a lot of collaboration between nonprofits here in Arizona. Talk to us about that dynamic.

Ginny Hildebrand: That's really the purpose of the Association of Arizona Food Banks. We are here to try to help the food banks identify what the projects are that can be collaborative. On the other hand, we are also working with government agencies to make sure that the communications lines are open and that they are able to come to us when they have got a problem or we can come to them when we have a problem. And that has made all the difference. Other states will look at the model here in Arizona and say, "How did you do that?" And we say, "it's just the way we do business in Arizona."

Ted Simons: As far that is collaboration is concerned, is there a challenge of overlap? Did you have to kind of make sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing and not get in each other's way?

Beverly Damore: Oh, absolutely. We have been granted this product. And so there's a high sense of responsibility or our end to make sure we are handling it efficiently and that there's no overlap.

Ted Simons: You are seeing that as well?

Ginny Hildebrand: Absolutely. I can tell you that a wonderful thing that has happened in the last couple of months where we were trying to fill in a hole that was created by a loss of transportation for a gleaning project which handles fresh fruits and vegetables. We are collaborating directly with St. Mary's Food Bank. One of my staff has an office in their food bank and comes back and forth and manages the trucks for both organizations to make sure that we are doing things in the most efficient and effective way.

Ted Simons: Last question. What do people watching right now, is there a misconception? What do you want them to know about food banks?

Beverly Damore: That we are serving families and that there is -- we have a horrible childhood hunger problem in this state. I don't think people see that a lot because hunger is hidden. We need do a job in getting that out there. Almost 30% of the children in Arizona are living in hunger and that has enormous impact on their ability to learn, for their families to function, and so what food banks we are trying to do is fill that gap and give those families some hope.

Ted Simons: Quickly, what message do you need to get across?

Ginny Hildebrand: I think food banks bring hope. When people have food on their tables, or a little bit in their cupboard they are able to be more stable and do a better job.

Ted Simons: It's good to have you both here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Ginny Hildebrand:President, CEO, The Association of Arizona Food Banks; Beverly Damore:Chief Operating Officer, St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance;

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