For those living without homes, food and nourishment are a constant need, but over the past seven years, a local group of volunteers goes out on the streets to help feed the homeless and hungry.
The patrol was created by Franciscan Brother David Buer, OFM. The efforts of the ministry are funded by gifts and donations, and is staffed by volunteers.
On this Thursday night, Jerry Strizic and his wife Priscilla Strizic are joined by Ella Kelly and Mary McBride. The four represent the nearly 70 volunteers who make up the ministry, which is one of numerous faith-based groups finding ways to serve the homeless in Tucson.
The Soup Patrol begins their mission mid-October and continue seven nights per week through the end of April. For Tucson's homeless population, this cup of soup may be the only meal of the day.
Pima County accounts for 15 percent of Arizona's population, and 27 percent of the state's homeless population. The frequency of homelessness in the county remains the highest in Arizona, and higher than national average, according to a new report from the Arizona Department of Economic Security.
The report said in 2012, one person of every 100 had experienced homelessness, while in 2013, one of every 131 experienced it, which is a small improvement, but an improvement nonetheless.
The Strizic's are snowbirds who spend their winters in Tucson, and their summers in Wisconsin. The couple has volunteered at the patrol nearly every Thursday night they're in town for the past six years.
"They are always hungry, and it's just amazing to give someone a piece of bread and see them start eating it immediately," Pricilla said. "It just brings tears to your eyes to know they're that hungry...you can't help but be moved."
The people fed by the patrol represent a handful of the more than 2,200 homeless people counted last year in the Homeless Street Count, required by HUD and organized by the Tucson Pima Collaboration to End Homelessness.
Ricardo Fernandez who runs Homeless Youth Services for Our Family Services said street count numbers underestimate the actual numbers, partly due to the limitations of the eligibility criteria set by HUD.
For instance, if people spent a couple of nights in a hotel room or on a friend's couch during the time of the survey, they are not counted as homeless.
On this Thursday, the patrol departed the church at 6:20 p.m., loaded with hot soup, hot chocolate, bread ad other supplies. They made seven stops during a three-hour run.
The first stop was Esteban Park, south of Speedway Boulevard, near Interstate 10. The team arrived promptly at 6:30 p.m., and a group of men gathered around the van. Along with hot soup, they also offered clothes and well wishes.
Soup Patrol organizers said their numbers are up from previous years. One night in November, they served close to 200 people.
William, a homeless man who camps behind a recycling center in Tucson's South Side, said he is grateful for the Soup Patrol and the hot meals they provide.
"A lot of times what we eat is cold food like sandwiches and the likes of that, so having a hot meal, hot food really makes a big difference…some of these guys wouldn't eat without the Soup Patrol," he said.
William shares a similar concern for his homeless brethren.
“Occasionally we’ll grab soups, because there’s a number of people who actually camp at this location here, so we look out for those people and of course if there’s leftovers and somebody comes the next morning and says ‘hey, you got anything to eat’ and we say ‘yeah, sure, here you go,'" he said.
Josh, who is 37, said he and his wife Beverly are recent arrivals to Tucson, and aside from the occasional "get a job" remarks from a passing car, people in the city have been kind and generous. They’ve been living on the streets for just over a year, and site job loss and economic hardship as contributing factors.
“Homeless people are people too...they’re just trying to get by just like everybody else, maybe they had something happen, nobody knows, they haven’t walked in their shoes," Josh said. "They don’t know what they’ve been through, what happened to them...I mean there’s hundreds of thousands of us and everyone’s got a different story."
The Strizic's said their work with the patrol has been rewarding in many ways, and that giving back has brought them joy and new perspectives.
"We feel completely different about (homelessness)," Jerry said. "I mean...I think at one time in my life, and maybe for a lot of people, you just looked down. I don’t look down at these people anymore. I feel sorry for them, I wish well for them, like Priscilla said, ‘everybody has a story’, we don’t know what happened, we don’t their situation."
Priscilla said they are always in need of hats, gloves, socks and blankets to have on board when they head out each night. For more information call 884-9021.