Food banks meeting demand, including seniors

Valley View Food Bank, St. Mary’s Food Bank


Food is a necessity, but not always affordable for some.

Food banks offer emergency food boxes as a way to feed people in the community, no matter the circumstances.

Seniors, have a designated food distribution day, Thursdays, at Valley View Food Bank, 10771 W Peoria Avenue, This food bank provides service to people all over the west valley including those in Sun City and Sun City West.

With the COVID-19 pandemic heading towards the fifth month, Valley View Food Bank founder Jessie Ramirez said the group is helping close to 480 people a day on average.

“We have opened up our days more and have a 24-hour program so when we get those calls from people in need after hours even at night we will help them out right away,’ he explained. “They call and if they’re in need we will meet them there at the food bank within 10 minutes and sometimes we get there before they do.”

Currently food distribution takes place Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with donations being accepted Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays fro 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The current need at the Valley View Food Bank is shelf-stable food. Mr. Ramirez said the more canned food available helps to make the other food last longer.

“Any types of food drives and monetary donations too of course are always appreciated,” he said.

The demand has increased in the area of food distribution. Mr. Ramirez said he saw a big increase in April and May with a spike of up to 600 people a day, but said somehow the food bank was still able to meet the needs, even as a smaller organization.

“Miracles happen at Valley View so we are buying a lot of food,” Mr. Ramirez said. “Our increase of buying healthier food has spiked about 25 to 35 percent more so that means we have to spend to buy enough food.”

Well-rounded nutritious food is provided to people in need. Included in the food boxes are fresh fruit and vegetables, chicken, beef, shelf-stable food, cereal, rice, pasta, hydration products like juice and milk and provide for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Mr. Ramirez said Valley View Food Bank’s breakdown monetarily is about $300 worth of food.

“It’s one of the best food boxes that I have ever seen and one thing we do is shoot for good nutritious food  and not just something to fill your tummy. We follow a really strict guideline for nutritious meals,” he explained. 

Residents from both of the Sun Cities take part in food distribution with the average age person being in the late 50’s. Mr. Ramirez said of course families frequent the food ban and lately people well into age 90.

“We are doing deliveries too, usually we don’t but a lot of clients are shut-ins and afraid to come out, but they need food. Right now 22 meals a day are being delivered,” Mr. Ramirez said.

Food bank visitors do not have to live within a certain zip code. A photo identification and birth certificates for children in need is required, but Mr. Ramirez said at this point in the program no one is being turned away.

Prior to the pandemic, approximately 180 visitors visited Valley View Food Bank on average. But he said the organization feels like it is going to get even worse and a lot of first-time people are visiting.

“We offer different programs like a farmer’s market and shared maintenance programs. Our emergency food box program allows two times per month so the other programs they can use as often as they would like,” Mr. Ramirez explained. “Seniors can get a senior box and get another later in the month. I always let seniors know they do not need to go without. Even if they’ve used their twice a month allotment and you need more food you come see us and we will help you. Don’t go without that is what we are here for.”

Mr. Ramirez said after being in the industry for over 36 years, he understands for many seniors who have worked hard all those years and now find themselves in a situation where a food bank is needed, can be difficult.

“We want people to know we care about their situation and sjust a little bit of love with the food goes a long way with people and they will be more likely to come back” he explained. “We always tell the people who come to visit is whenever they are in a position where you need us, please use us because you have to have food.”

St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, 13050 W. Elm Street, has a distribution center open Monday through Friday from 8:30a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Currently the organization is calling on volunteers. Activities include packing meals for the kids cafe program, on-site food distribution and packing emergency food boxes.

On March 27 St. Mary’s Food Bank President/CEO Tom Kertis said in a statement on the organization’s website, at the peak, Sr. Mary’s Food Bank had 3,500 people  go to the get help page from March 1 through 12. And from March 12 to 26, there were 25,000 visitors to the page. St. Mary’s Food Bank Director of Public Relations Jerry Brown said as of now the focus on the food bank has been on collecting water. With temperatures soaring, hydration is important.

“We are happy to say individual donors have given 100,000 pounds of water in just the last week and that has really helped us get over a difficult time when temperatures apexed, but we can still use a lot of water as well,” he explained. “Donations have been very good and folks have donated. We can always use cash donations. Every $1 allows us to get seven meals into the community and it’s always a great thing. A $10 donation can go along way of feeding 70 people and that is amazing.”

A typical day between both the Surprise and Phoenix locations, St. Mary’s Food Bank provides a service to 700 clients per day and that number jumped to 1,000 people according to Mr. Brown and apexed at 1,500 three to four weeks into the pandemic and remained that way for two months.

“That’s more than two times what we normally see. That has dissipated in later June, early July as more people have opened and people have gone back to work. But we have seen an up-tick again as more places have closed like gyms and bars and other places and more people have been out of work again now,” Mr. Brown explained. “Now we are seeing a couple hundred more a day than normal. People are living paycheck to paycheck and when they stop working, that effects people.”

Mr. Brown explained when the big peak hit in March and April the food bank was coming off a time of year when the most food exists in the warehouse due to so many donations in November and December. He said the organization was well stocked and able to distribute, but with Arizona as a hot spot if another big lock down or closure happen and the food bank is inundated, that same stock is non-existent.

“We want as much food into folks hands that need it and we want people to stay home when they can. If you are not working there is no reason for you to be out if we can put the food in folks hands they will be more inclined to stay home and do what needs to be done in this pandemic. We feel like we are serving two important functions. Feeding people and helping stop the spread,” Mr, Brown said.

If someone is in need of food, all that is required is proof of address, with no specific financial requirements other than expressing the need.

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