Valley of the Sun, AZ

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Feeding Arizona by Changing How We Think About Hunger

 The United Food Bank April 30, 2014

Musical act The Senators and their fans volunteer at the food bank

Submitted by The United Food Bank

There are no hungry people in Arizona.” “Only the people living on the streets are hungry.” “How can someone be both overweight and malnourished?”

Jayson Matthews, who has been working at the United Food Bank for the last year and a half hears these comments all the time. “In general, there is a lack of understanding and possible denial about the problem of hunger in this country. It’s very difficult for someone to wrap their minds around the fact that in the United States, the richest country on Earth, we have over 37 million people — of which are 14 million children and 3 million seniors — who go to bed every night not knowing where their next meal is coming from.”

The United Food Bank (UFB) is a regional distributor of food to over 188 partner agencies with over 260 distribution sites in five counties across one-fourth of Arizona (Eastern Maricopa, Pinal, Gila, and Southern Navajo and Apache counties). UFB’s service area of over 25,000 square miles is approximately the same size as West Virginia and includes about 33 percent of the total state population. In fiscal year 2012/13, UFB distributed approximately 22.3 million pounds of food. This amount of food equaled more than 18.6 million meals or 51,100 meals every day of the year. This food gets to those in need through a variety of partnerships and programs, including those that directly benefit hungry children and the working poor.

UFB has seen steady growth in the number of pounds that they are able to distribute, with over a 12 percent increase in just one year. “While we are proud to be able to distribute more food, we know that the need is far more than what we can address.”

Arizona is the third worst state in the U.S. for food insecurity in which 1 in 7 seniors, 1 in 5 adults, and 1 in 4 children struggle with hunger every day. Food insecurity refers to a condition in which an individual doesn’t know where their next meal comes from or if they will eat or not. With 20 percent of Arizona’s population living at or below the federal poverty rate of $11,170 for an individual and $23,050 for a family of four, the impacts of hunger is a growing problem — especially for our most vulnerable: our seniors and children.

“Food insecurity is a term we use because it its more accurate than to simply say that someone is hungry. To be hungry implies an emergency crisis. To be food insecure says that you need a supplemental food source to fill in for something that does not exist. More and more Arizonans that are served by UFB are people who work, but don’t have sufficient incomes to pay all of their bills and put food on the table for themselves and their families. We are dealing with bigger issues here, like poverty.” 

In addition, United Food Bank is seeing how important their role is with this issue of public health. One key example is the impact on children. There are a number of negative implications of childhood hunger, which include: impact on cognitive development (learning, social interaction, productivity) and increased illnesses. The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child says, “Children who do not receive what they need for strong, healthy brain development during early childhood may never recover their lost potential for cognitive growth and eventual contributions to society.” In other words, malnutrition impacts a child’s physical growth and ability to learn.

United Food Bank has a number of programs to directly feed hungry children. These include our Kids Café, Food for Thought, School Pantries, and Backpack Program.

Kids Café is a collaborative effort with partner social service agencies of the East Valley to provide a nutritionally balanced evening meal/snack five nights a week to at-risk children in locations like community centers, after-school programs, and local Boys and Girls Clubs.

Food for Thought provides nutritionally balanced food boxes to our participating partners who distribute the boxes to the families of those students who have satisfactory participated in education programs. Because children are contributing to their family by bringing home a food box (enough to feed a family of four for three days), they also gain an improved sense of self-worth.

Our school pantries are located on the grounds of a school to provide a more readily accessible source of food assistance to low-income students and their families. Last year, over 3,000 food boxes were distributed — helping over 14,000 people.

United Food Bank also provides a Backpack Program, which was established to address the needs of children with extremely high food insecurity over the weekends. Most of these children receive free or reduced lunch during the week but, unfortunately, have no means of getting fed on the weekends. Our Backpack Program works like this: every Friday, students identified as at-risk can pick up a backpack filled with nutritious, easy to prepare meals and snacks, so they do not have to go hungry over the weekend. Backpacks are returned on Monday and refilled for the following weekend.

United Food Bank believes one key to end hunger in Arizona is to provide nutritious food to those in need. We’re not only looking for food donations, we’re looking for food you would feed your own family. Items such as peanut butter, canned fruits, canned vegetables, canned meals, rice, beans, soups, and dried/canned milk go a long way to fill hungry stomachs with nutritious food. They know that there is a link between poverty and obesity, as foods high in fat and sugar are also some of the cheapest to obtain. “In order to be our best, we need to feed ourselves the best food.”

“These problems are big, but we have seen the collective power of compassion through the simple donation of canned food and money.” If you would like to help feed the hungry in your community and lift people out of crisis and back into self-sufficiency, here are three easy ways:

• Host a food drive in your community (and United Food Bank can help!)
• Volunteer at the Food Bank where you see how your food gets to agencies and people in need
• Make a regular donation to United Food Bank, we can provide five meals for every $1 in expenses — which is a powerful way to make a big impact! 

To learn more and to make a donation, visit or call us at 480-398-4442. We are located on 245 S Nina Drive, Mesa, AZ, 85210. Back to Top

 The United Food Bank| April 30, 2014
Categories:  Feature

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