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Holiday Season a Critical Time for AZ Food Banks

November 18, 2010

PHOENIX, Ariz. - The holiday season is the most crucial time for Arizona's food banks, especially with the state's continuing high rates of poverty and unemployment. Forty percent of financial contributions to food banks are made during the months of November and December.

St. Mary's Food Bank president Terry Shannon says it's also a giving time of year when it comes to food donations.

"Every business, every school, lots of churches, lots of the retailers want to be able to do food drives during the holiday season. We'll have over 1,000 food drives going on this time of year for us, so it's very important."

St. Mary's serves all of central and northern Arizona. Since the recession began two years ago, Shannon says the amount of food his organization distributes has grown by 67 percent, to 72 million pounds of food annually.

Shannon especially welcomes donations of frozen turkeys. With some food stores currently offering a 20-pound bird for less than $6, Shannon hopes folks will pick up an extra turkey to donate for use in emergency food boxes.

"Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we pack about 25,000 of what we call "holiday boxes." They have a special mix of items in them, designed to be able to help create that holiday meal. One of the key components is a turkey."

If someone can't afford to donate food or cash, Shannon says food banks also rely heavily on volunteers to help with food distribution year-round.

"Last year, volunteers gave us over 380,000 hours of time. We'd have to hire 170 full-time staff to give us that many hours, and obviously there's no way we could financially do that."

Shannon says food bank donations have held up well, despite the recession. He believes it's because many people realize feeding the hungry is the most basic of human needs, and they have concentrated their charitable giving on meeting that need.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ