The Freeport-McMoRan Foundation supports the Sahuarita Food Bank as it expands to become a community resource center.

November 22, 2019

You won't see much more than scrub brush if you drive by the future site of the Sahuarita Food Bank today, but don't let that fool you. There is a lot of action going on behind the scenes. Food bank supporters are in the midst of raising $2.2 million for the project while also meeting with community organizations to create programs that will help their clients become more self-sufficient. Sahuarita Food Bank will not only feed those in need, it will be a community resource center.

In 2015, Pima County asked voters to pass an $815 million bond for 99 projects. Had it passed, the food bank would have received $300,000, but it didn't so food bank supporters decided to build it on their own. "We started out a couple of years ago at about 8,000 square feet and as the community grew we realized that it’s not just about the distribution of food, it’s about taking care of the community," said board member Ann Striker. Now the plan is to build a 13,500-square-foot facility that will have enough space for programs addressing  health and nutrition, family support and workplace development.

“We want to feed people. We’ve got hungry people, we need to feed them. That’s absolutely critical," said Penny Pestle, another food bank board member. "That’s our core mission, but we also have a second mission which is to support people as they move to economic security and self-sufficiency.”

Among the organizations that have agreed to offer classes and other services: Easter Seals Blake Foundation, United Way of Southern Arizona, Make Way for Books, Catholic Community Services-Pio Decimo Center, Pima County Smiles dental van, Banner Health, Arizona Community Extension and the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.

The health and nutrition component of the resource center will range from cooking demonstrations to creating healthy menus, diabetes information and health screenings.Pestle said the food bank is working with the Town of Sahuarita's economic development department to identify job opportunities for people. For example, they already know there's a high demand for entry-level healthcare positions and culinary jobs in the area. "We have a lot of assisted living facilities that need certified caregivers and the hospitals, of which we will have two, need certified nurse assistants," she said. "They can’t keep these jobs filled."

The 18-bed Sahuarita Medical Center is slated to open next year. A clinical teaching space has been reserved inside the food bank facility in partnership with Pima Community College, Pestle said. The food bank is also discussing the possibility of Pima County One-Stop joining their effort. If so, the workforce development program would help food bank clients develop basic employment skills. As far as culinary jobs, Pestle said, "our commercial kitchen is designed to be both a food-producing kitchen, but also a teaching space and we have a classroom adjacent to it so people can observe what’s going on." There are resources available in Tucson but when you don't have reliable transportation, "25 miles might as well be 100 miles," Pestle said. "The population we serve and many others in the community are really transportation-challenged," she said.

The number of students participating in Sahuarita Food Bank's weekend backpack has increased significantly from last year. Board member Ann Striker said about 450 students who attend Sahuarita Unified School District and the San Xavier Mission School on the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation are sent home every weekend with backpacks filled with food. Last year that number was just under 350 students. "It is a staggering amount of children," Striker said. If not for the backpacks, these children would go through their weekends hungry, she said. "We provide 10-11 items in each bag for the students," Striker said. "We are trying to provide enough mixed snacks just for the student, but we believe that the kids share with their siblings, too." They try to make sure each backpack includes cereal, shelf-stable milk, juice, breakfast bar, fruit cup, canned protein (tuna or pasta product), hummus and crackers, soup, individual macaroni and cheese and oatmeal.

The food bank is also going to be "incubating food-based businesses," she said. Foodies who would like to start their own businesses often can't because the health department requires entrepreneurs to have access to a commercial kitchen. The food bank will have one, she said "As we look across our client base, there are a lot of people who are good cooks who already can and try and do all kinds of things who could make a living, or at least a good supplement to their living, by having a food-based business," Pestle said.
Freeport-McMoran DreamBuilder program will help take those prospective business owners further, offering classes on how to get a business license, file sales taxes, run a company successfully and get capital to grow that business, Striker said.

“Some people think the food piece is absolutely essential," she said. "That’s the basic need. We have to attend to basic needs and nobody disputes that. But there are a lot of people who are really inspired or drawn to the project because it’s a long-term, more systemic solution. It’s not just a Band-aid, but it’s a way to help people really change how they go about their lives.” Food bank clients aren't the only ones going to benefit from the new resource center, the women said.

"You need workers who are able to work and qualified to work to bring business to the community. If you have businesses in the community then those people have an opportunity to improve their circumstances and then the community is stronger overall," Pestle said. Thanks to the La Posada Foundation, Freeport-McMoran Foundation, Pima County and many other organizations, the food bank has raised $1.3 million so far, but there is a long way to go, Pestle said. The food bank is expected to break ground by July 1, and they can't wait, Striker and Pestle said. Right now, the facility is open six hours a week and volunteers are working in a 5,500-square-foot area. They also have to set up and break down their equipment every time they're open, Striker said.

With the new facility, the food bank will likely open four days a week. “It’s going to allow us to serve more clients. We are consistently registering new families, so while the economy is generally doing well, minimum wage workers are still struggling,” Pestle said. 


<- Go Back