Mesa native Ruth Collins, founder and president of the nonprofit Arizona Brainfood, can be found every Thursday from 8:30 to 10 a.m. organizing bags of food to give to local students who would otherwise go without on the weekends.
With four children of her own, Collins couldn’t believe that while talking with an elementary school teacher one day that there are children like her own in Mesa Public Schools who come to school on Monday mornings hungry.
“My kids go to Mesa Public Schools and I found out that some kids were going home on the weekends with nothing to eat and it struck a chord in me,” she said. “These kids would go hungry over the weekends otherwise.”
Sixty-five percent of Mesa students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Many of these children have very little or no food to eat on the weekends. It has been proven, children that lack proper nourishment have lower test scores and more behavioral problems in school.
“As I researched the issue I found it to be a huge problem across all of Arizona. I organized Arizona Brainfood with the mission of giving a bag of food to those children who would otherwise go without on the weekends,” said Collins, who grew up as part of the well-known Farnsworth family in Mesa.
“It’s called Arizona Brainfood for a reason,” Collins said. “We have to get these kids educated and break the poverty cycle. It’s all about feeding them so they can learn.”
Arizona Brainfood finds out which students need their service through teachers who discretely identify those in need.
“Every school tells us what they need and they determine who needs help,” said Collins. “We serve four schools now and my goal is to add even more schools.”
She would like to eventually serve all Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, Tempe, Fountain Hills and Scottsdale schools.
“We’ve just expanded every year as we’ve been able to grow ourselves,” Collins said.
Mesa resident Kristen Cowley has been volunteering with Arizona Brainfood since its beginning in 2009 with two schools and 100 children being served.
“One of the delivery truck drivers who volunteers with us told me about the organization and I started coming to volunteer and got hooked on it,” Cowley said. “It floored me that this was such a problem.”
Various businesses volunteer their time, trucks and drivers to help deliver the food to the schools every Thursday.
Cowley said her nine children also help volunteer when they are not in school because she wants to teach them to help others and to see that there are less fortunate people right here in Mesa. She brings her kids in on the weekends to help stock shelves for the upcoming week’s deliveries.
“It teaches them to give back and makes our kids aware of what’s going on in the world,” Cowley said. “It’s a never ending job and when you know you’re giving back to the community, it’s all worth it.”
Mesa Mayor John Giles, who often volunteers his time to the organization, raves about how involved the community is in helping each other.
“So many Mesa residents ask, ‘What can I do to give back to my community?’ and make a difference,” Giles said. “Arizona Brainfood is such a great example of what one person can do and people are inspired by residents like Ruth Collins who saw a need and are doing something to help the community.”
Those who would like to support Collins’ cause can do so by donating food, time and/or sponsoring a child for $5 a weekend, $20 a month, or $180 a year.
Arizona Brainfood is located at 325 E. McKellips Road in Mesa. Visit azbrainfood.org for more details.
– Kelly Mixer is managing editor of MyNewsMesa.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.