Inflation swells

Human Services Representative Ray Gomez loads a cart of food into a recipient’s vehicle at Vista del Camino Food Bank. (David Minton/Progress Staff Photographer)

As the supermarket prices skyrocket stores across the Valley and the nation, so has the demand on food banks and Scottsdale is not exempt. 

Food banks in Scottsdale like the Vista Del Camino Food Distribution Center and the brown bag program at the Granite Reef Senior Center have seen a spike in the number of patrons requesting their help. 

“Generally, we get 10 to 20 new clients a month. Last month, we had 50,” said city Recreation Manager Andy Passmonick, referring to the rising need at Vista Del Camino. “We were able to disperse over 200 food boxes last month and the average number of boxes a month is about 150.”

Each box contains about a month’s worth of food and at the Vista Del Camino Food Distribution Center, patrons must schedule a monthly appointment by calling the front desk to receive their 40-pound box of food containing canned items, pasta, sauces and vegetables.

The boxes sometimes include bread, milk, eggs, lunch meats, cheeses, frozen meat and pet food if the person has any pets. Boxes can be filled every 30 days. 

Kevin Herrick, a city Human Services representative, has also seen an increase in the number of seniors grabbing brown bags at the Granite Reef Senior Center. 

“There has been a steady increase over the last several months due to the high inflation rates,” Herrick said. “Most of the seniors that I work with are low income anyways and most of them make less than $2,000 a month. So, I think they’re just trying to offset that cost by coming to this program.” 

The Brown Bag Program offers Scottsdale seniors a bi-monthly food distribution on the first and third Thursday morning of the month. The bags consist of five or six different items, such as fresh vegetables, canned goods, drinks, bread and cold food items.

But while the need for food has increased, supply is on the decline. 

“We’ve had some issues trying to get everybody to eat the same food,” Herrick said. “So, we’ll have to order a bunch of apples then a bunch of pears, for example, to make enough food for everybody so everybody gets something, but it’s not like everybody’s eating the same amount of the same type of food.” 

Passmonick also said it is characteristic for donations to tailor off during the summer, however. 

“As we’ve gotten closer to the summer months, and through the summer, our donations are down quite a bit but that’s normal for the summertime of the year,” Passmonick said. 

Despite the summer lull, Passmonick said donations have been on par with last year. 

“Overall, our number of donations is about the same and hasn’t changed much in the last couple of years,” he said. “There are still people who do a lot of food drives and whether they’re companies or churches or schools.

“We also get probably 30 to 40 pounds of donations a day from people just stopping at the back door and dropping things off and the number of donations hasn’t increased or decreased throughout the year — it’s more based on the time of year.” 

Although there has not been a large fluctuation in the amount of food donated, another area of need for food banks has been labor. 

“Staffing is also an issue in our country,” Passmonick said “We were able to have more staff over the last couple of months, which has helped in that regard.” 

Although the Vista Del Camino Food Distribution Center has regained some of its volunteers, the Granite Reef Senior Center’s volunteer program has been stymied since the declaration of the pandemic two years ago. 

“The other challenge that we kind of faced is our volunteer program for the city has been suspended. We’re only allowed to have a certain number of volunteers and it has to be approved by directors or directors,” Herrick said. “We had over 100 volunteers, pre-COVID but ever since then, we have been kind of reluctant to bring them back. So, I think they’re just kind of waiting to see what happens.” 

Herrick has called upon his staffers and even members of the National Guard at times to aid in distributing food to seniors. 

Passmonick said staffing is equally as important as donations. 

“Being able to have enough food box appointments also depends on the number of staff we have,” he said. 

More than anything, it seems that these food banks need help in any way possible. 

“There are people who are just struggling with their day-to-day bills and with rising costs of food and mortgage and rent,” Passmonick said. “Giving your time and giving what you can from donating money to donating food. 

Valley-wide, the picture is no rosier.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Jerry Brown, spokesman for St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix. “The price of food, gas, rent. Everything is going up. The need is overwhelming.”

St. Mary’s serves 900 families every day right now, Monday through Friday, or about 300,000 people statewide.

“We are seeing a 60% increase in demand over the same time last year,” Brown said. “We are 200% over our food budget for the year, and we will have to purchase more. At the same time that demand is going up, our donations are going down. We need food. Corporate donations from large retailers are a huge help.

“We have people who know where the food bank is because they used to donate. Now, they’re coming because they need our services,” Brown said.

St. Mary’s stores between 7 and 8 million pounds of food at its 120 thousand square foot warehouse in Phoenix, about a third of which is refrigerated to hold frozen food as well as fresh produce that is trucked up to the Valley routinely from an area near Nogales.

If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, Brown says that demand was actually lower than normal last year.

“We planned well,” he said. “We could see what was coming.”

So, for the immediate future, supply will sustain the demand. The question is “not can we feed people tomorrow, but can we feed them next month?”

Info:

Vista Del Camino Food Distribution Center

480-312-2323 7700 E. Roosevelt Street

Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday - Friday.

Donations can be made to the establishment’s driveway. 

Granite Reef Senior Center

480 312-1700 1700 N. Granite Reef Road

Patrons can pick up bags on the first and third Thursday of each month. Patrons need to visit scottsdaleaz.gov to register to pick up bags and provide proof of residency and that they are over the age of 62.

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