/ Modified nov 6, 2023 8:36 p.m.

Food banks seek extra donations ahead of holiday season

Food banks around the couty say the rise in the cost of food has made it harder to get food

St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank Members and volunteers of St. Vincent de Paul food bank in Douglas, AZ. November 3, 2023.
Summer Hom, AZPM News

As the holiday season approaches, some Cochise County food banks are struggling to find enough food and money to provide for the need.

Nell Worden, the director of the Willcox Community Food Pantry, said the cost of food has nearly doubled from last year.

"When we were buying stuff for a dollar, let's say cranberry sauce, we could get a dollar from certain stores," Worden said. "Then, it went up. And now, I looked at it from the other day, and it was, like, $2. So, that's just something we will have to leave out 'cause we just can't afford to do it ... In the 17 years that I've been the director, this is probably the hardest season that we'll go through."

That increase in the cost of food makes it harder financially for food banks around the county.

The president of the board of the Food Bank of Tombstone Kalman Mannis said the Tombstone food bank spends between $3,000-$3,500 a month on food.

The president of Immaculate Conception St. Luke's Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Douglas Nancie Ames, who runs the food pantry at St. Vincent de Paul, said that she spends about $3,400 for food that lasts for three-months of food.

For Worden, the holiday dinners last year cost about $40 per meal, but now, cost closer between $50-$55.

It's that rise in the cost of food that has Worden concerned about being able to provide enough holiday meals of turkey and stuffing.

“We figure that our holiday funding will run us anywhere between, probably this year, $25,000-$30,000,” said Worden. “Last year, our contributions — they were down probably 50% … We certainly don’t want anybody in the Willcox area to go hungry on the holidays.”

Worden said she sees between 200-300 families a week during their Monday food distribution. She said if every person in the community donated $10-$20, it could help the food bank could provide these holiday dinners.

"We're not asking for a big donations, we're just asking for $10, $20," said Worden. "If you could give me $20, $20 will buy the turkey."

In Tombstone, Mannis said that more people have been using the food bank in recent months. He said that the Tombstone food bank sees between 450-500 families a week.

On top of their normal weekly distribution Wednesday-Friday and the second Saturday of the month, Mannis said the food bank does a holiday food distribution the week before Christmas.

"And that's our big community distribution with a turkey or a ham and all of the fixings for a Christmas meal," said Mannis. "That's a huge expense. And one of the things many folks don't think, perhaps don't perceive of is food banks, especially the ones in Cochise County, we all for the most part have to pay, have to buy all that food in the retail marketplace. So, what you would pay for at one of the grocery stores is what we pay for; and those funds are often donated."

He said it's been challenging this year financially, as donations have decreased "And the need has increased dramatically ... We've been very fortunate that we have a partnership with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, and they provide us with a lifeline. But it is a fairly minimal one."

Ames said she sees on average around 25-30 families a week.

“I think with the … cost of food too, we’re seeing a lot of people coming in," Ames said. "They might be on food stamps but they get a very small amount of food stamps.”

Ames says the Douglas food pantry has enough food and funds ahead of the holidays for now.

"I feel very blessed with the amount of food that we have right now, and the donations that we have received," said Ames. "At this point, I don't see a need for us to go out and, you know, and do a big rush to tell people and say 'can you help us?'"

With the onset of the holiday season in the United States, often what accompanies the chillier weather is a larger, more expensive meal.

Ames said it doesn't take much to help those in need in the holiday season.

"This country is blessed in a lot of ways," said Ames. "But I think a lot of people don't understand that there are a lot of people that really don't have enough money and enough food to feed their family on a weekly basis. And so, we just ask people when you're blessed, you know, if you have an extra $5, think about is there something that you can purchase that would go to a food bank?"

Often, purchasing canned, non-perishable foods like canned fish or peanut butter, Ames said, goes a long way to helping those in need.

"A couple jars of tuna aren't going to cost you that much," said Ames. "And you know that's going to help feed a family. And so, we ask people to just think about their local food bank, or food pantry."

Unlike Douglas or Willcox, Tombstone does not have a grocery store.

"We feel very obligated to our community in Tombstone," said Mannis. "In the county, we don't want to just give the minimal. We want to make sure that families can have good nutrition to the best of our ability."

Mannis said that the food bank does have sufficient food donations ahead of the holidays; he says monetary donations are always welcome.

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