Hunger is a real problem in America. In many ways, America is the land of plenty, but for 1 in 6 people in the United States, hunger is a reality. Many people believe that the problems associated with hunger are confined to small pockets of society, certain areas of the country, or certain neighborhoods, but the reality is much different. Right now, millions of Americans are struggling with hunger. These are often hard-working adults, children and seniors who simply cannot make ends meet and are forced to go without food for several meals, or even days. But one organization, United Food Bank, is working diligently to help ease some of the hunger pangs in their area.
Most of us make resolutions for the New Year that last for a week or two, but for the people at United Food Bank in Mesa, AZ their resolution keeps working the entire year. They are one of 202 member food banks of Feeding America (www.feedingamerica.org), the nation’s largest hunger-relief charity. It’s worth the time to visit their website and take the quiz to see how much you know about hunger in America. This organization and their network supplies food to more than 37 million Americans each year, including 14 million children and 3 million seniors.
Over the years, I have delivered to food banks in different areas when we had food rejected at a delivery location but nothing was wrong with it – usually, it was just the wrong product sent and the company receiving it did not want to pay to have it hauled back, so we would take it to a food bank. It’s a win-win situation, because the food goes to people who need it and the company gets a write-off. But, back then, I had no idea how serious and widespread the problem of hunger was.
The United Food Bank’s operation in Mesa, AZ began in a small facility in 1983. Its mission is to provide access to nutritious food though community partnerships, food distribution and education. The area they serve is the entire Easy Valley, Gila County, Pinal County, Southern Navajo County, and Southern Apache County. Hunger is a direct consequence of poverty. The poverty line for a family of four is set at $22,350 annual gross income. Last year, more than 888,000 Arizona residents received food assistance from the United Food Bank. Today, 1 in 5 (19.2%) Arizonans are living in poverty, and 1 in 4 (24.4%) Arizona children aged 18 or under live in poverty. Food insecurity, a common term you might hear, occurs whenever the availability of nutritionally-adequate and safe foods, or the ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways, is limited or uncertain.
During their fiscal year 2012/2013 (July 1, 2012 to June 20, 2013), United Food Bank distributed over 22 million pounds of food and grocery items (that’s about 560 truckloads weighing 40,000 pounds each). The total distributed food provided more than 18 million meals (which translates to over 51,000 meals every day). During an average workday, their warehouse processes more than 96 tons of food. For each $1 of expenses they incur, they can distribute 5.72 pounds of food worth $9.50 – that’s enough to provide 4.77 meals. Volunteers provided more than 51,700 hours of work, which is the equivalent to nearly 25 paid staff. This organization, and others like it, really are doing great work.
All of these enormous numbers and staggering statistics really help you to realize just how big this problem is – and the scary part is that none of us know when we might need some help. Throughout the economic downturn that started around 2008, many people with good jobs and careers have ended up needing help. By just looking at the unemployment rate in America (7%), it isn’t hard to see that even educated people are finding it hard to get a job these days. With a 9% unemployment rate, Rhode Island has the highest amount of unemployed people in the nation, while Arizona currently has an above-average unemployment rate of 7.8%.
The Feeding America Network benefits from the unique relationship it has with its 202 local member food banks that are working the front lines of hunger relief, including the United Food Bank. On the national level, Feeding America’s role is to secure food from corporate manufacturers and retailers and facilitate the acquisition of government-supplied food, to provide funds from corporate, foundation, and individual donors as seed money to spur innovation, and to distribute food donations received to the food banks using a robust logistics system. From there, the local food banks, like the United Food Bank, fulfill their local role, which also includes securing food from local sources (manufacturers, retailers, farmers and government agencies), as well as funding from local corporate and individual donors, and then efficiently utilizing those funds to distribute the food to people in need. And to move all of this food, they need trucks.
The United Food Bank’s transportation fleet includes two semi tractors – a beautiful white and green 2009 Peterbilt (see photos) and a 2006 International, two 48-foot Utility trailers, one 26-foot Freightliner truck, eight 24-foot Internationals and Hinos, and one 16-foot Ford 550. These trucks are used to deliver food to the 256 agencies that they distribute to. To name a few, there is WOW (With Out Walls), Streets of Joy, Salvation Army, Boys & Girls Clubs, and various YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) locations. United Food Bank’s Warehouse and Transportation Manager Ollie Belcher told me they also deliver to many churches, rescue missions and soup kitchens.
Ollie has been with United Food Bank for nearly four years now. Before joining the United Food Bank team, Ollie worked in a plant in Michigan that closed five years ago. Back then, after losing his job, he remembers opening his empty refrigerator and wondering where his next meal might come from. He had no idea about food banks, and, oddly enough, he now works for one. It just goes to show that you never know when YOU might need help, so just being aware that these types of organizations exist, might one day help you and/or your family. Ollie has made it his personal mission to actively tell as many people as possible about the help that food banks can provide.
One of United Food Bank’s previous drivers (Scott) used to take their Peterbilt to truck shows and other events, but that hasn’t happened as much since he left. However, the truck is still sometimes driven in local parades, like on the 4th of July, and other events happening in and around the Mesa, Arizona area, as it should be – this Peterbilt is really nice! I hope that Ollie gets a chance to take the truck to some shows and events this year to help spread the word about United Food Bank and what they do to help their neighbors. Like their slogan says, “Neighbors Helping Neighbors!”
I think it’s important to support the companies that help support these food banks. I hope you will make some time soon and visit the Feeding America national website (www.feedingamerica.org), as well as United Food Bank’s site (www.unitedfoodbank.org), and look at the companies that support these organizations, because when we support the companies that contribute to this cause, we make it possible for them to continue making their much-needed contributions.
And, if you are someone who needs assistance, it is not hard to search for a local food bank in your area. If you have a garden and grow more produce than you can use, consider taking it to your local food bank
instead of just letting it go bad then throwing it away. Or, if you just want to make a donation, the most-needed items include cash, peanut butter, canned meat, canned fruit and vegetables, whole grain cereals, soups, beans, pasta, rice and milk (canned or dried).
I would like to thank United Food Bank’s Chief Development Officer Jayson Matthews for helping me with this article, as well as their former driver, Scott Campagna, who took it upon himself last year to send us pictures of the food bank’s Peterbilt and bring the entire organization to our attention.
Ending hunger completely may not be a realistic goal, but easing the pain by helping as many people as possible is a reality for organizations like the United Food Bank. So, this year, I ask you to make a resolution to help one of these organizations in whatever way you can. Neighbors helping neighbors is what it’s all about – which is more than just the American way, it’s the right way.