Sometimes it seems like the only time we think about feeding hungry people in Tucson is during the holiday season, and we forget that there are hungry people every day of the week who call this city home.
Lt. Katie Breazeale with the Salvation Army says she's familiar with that traditional holiday call for donations from almost every agency that helps people with food and housing, but she's not frustrated.
"I'm just thankful when it does happen. During the holidays it's harder for people. You want to have a special meal with family and friends," says Breazeale, with the Salvation Army's Tucson Amphi Corps.
Every month, Breazeale's office distributes 500 food boxes and that food comes from the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. However, the Salvation Army collects food from local bakeries and restaurants through a project called Harvest. That food is distributed every Monday and Thursday, usually 50 to 60 people each day, with more people coming toward the end of the month when benefits and paychecks start to go dry.
This year, the Salvation Army is focused on getting 400 to 500 turkeys for its annual Thanksgiving community dinner that serves more than 3,000 meals on Thanksgiving Day rather than focus on giving out Thanksgiving food boxes.
However, another agency, the Tucson Indian Center has put the call out for Thanksgiving meal donations. Evelyn Ybarra, executive assistant, says she has more than 100 families on a waiting list. In past years, the Indian Center has relied on the Community Food Bank to provide holiday meal boxes for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, but they were just told this month that the only boxes available for all Food Bank agencies will be for Christmas.
"It's been left up to the agencies," Ybarra says. "We've had a tremendous amount of inquiries this year. If anyone had a doubt that we are still in a recession, well we are still in a recession."
Ybarra says she's seen more requests come in for food boxes—a slow incline, but an increase nonetheless—and she wonders if in part it is a result of the federal cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps that are now down to about $36 a month for a family of four.
Ybarra says it's too early to say, but anticipates the number of people coming in for food will continue to slowly climb. Anyone who comes in for food has to demonstrate need, but Ybarra says she's never operated that way.
"It takes a lot for someone to come in and ask for help. They must be in need if they got up the courage to come in in the first place. We never turn anyone away," she says.
Public relations manager Jack Parris with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona says it's true his agency doesn't have the resources to provide Thanksgiving food boxes to its partner agencies because it doesn't have enough money.
A choice had to be made this year, and this isn't the first year—Thanksgiving or Christmas. The agency chose Christmas and purchased 30,000 three-pound hams and is now collecting donations for other holiday meal items, like yams and stuffing.
The Food Bank has around 170 agencies, like the Tucson Indian Center and the Salvation Army, that help the Food Bank distribute food year-round, not just during the holidays throughout Southern Arizona, not just Tucson or Pima County.
Parris says the Food Bank's plans for Christmas were done months ago, including the purchase of the hams. Last year, a similar decision was made and like last year, requests for food keep going up.
Parris said need has gone up six percent this year since last year, and he anticipates that once people figure out their SNAP benefit changes, the Food Bank and its partner agencies will see a larger increase in the next couple of months.
"We're just trying to keep up every month because we need food and resources every day, not just during the holidays," he says.
In all five counties the Food Bank serves, about 27,000 food boxes are provided through partner agencies.
"We've been holding our own, and luckily this is a very giving community. Around this time of year people tend to think of feeding the people during the holidays," he says, adding that this is when the Food Bank sees monetary and food donations increase, with biggest drop months later in the first quarter of the year.
The Salvation Army Thanksgiving Community Dinner on Nov. 28 is from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 1145 E. Fort Lowell Road and is free. For more info on donations, both food and monetary, visit www.TheSalvationArmyTucson.org or call 795-9671. The Tucson Indian Center is taking monetary donations and non-perishable food items for Thanksgiving food boxes at 97 E. Congress Street. For more info, call 884-7131. The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona is in need of monetary, food and holiday food donations. For more info, call 662-0525 or visit communityfoodbank.com.