Home Peeps and Places Mesa Peeps United Food Bank in Mesa seeks to end community-wide hunger

United Food Bank in Mesa seeks to end community-wide hunger

Melissa Forrester, community outreach specialist for United Food Bank, stands in front of donations for last year's Christmas in July Food Drive Challenge in Mesa. (Kelly Mixer/MyNewsMesa.com)

Mesa-based United Food Bank provides more than 57,000 pounds of food a day, over 2 million pounds a month, to those in need.

“That’s over 26 million every year and growing because the need keeps growing,” said Melissa Forrester, community outreach specialist for United Food Bank.

As members of Feeding America, the local food bank seeks the best deals for not only pricing but shipping of food. They also utilize partnerships with local grocers and farmers.

“Much of the money donated we use to buy fresh fruits and vegetables because that’s our focus,” Forrester said. “And peanut butter is liquid gold.”

The local Boys and Girls Club and YMCA, places that offer kid-specific programs, are big recipients of the United Food Bank.

“We get to the after-school programs, backpack programs to make sure these kids get enough to eat,” Forrester said. “We work with the schools, who work one-on-one with families and know who is in need.”

Teachers in Mesa public schools discreetly identify those students in need and get them to work toward a goal to earn their food boxes since many families do not want a handout.

“When they achieve their goal, they earn a food box so the kids work for the food and we are getting it to where it is needed,” Forrester said. “They learn about obstacles in life.”

United Food Bank also works with local homeless shelters to help get people back on their feet.

“At the end of food lines we give them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so homeless people can have breakfast and a snack later on in the day,” Forrester said. “We’re glad that we’re here as a safety net for seniors on a restricted budget.”

They also provide emergency food boxes to first responders who can in turn give the food to those in need when they find them on daily calls.

“It’s amazing how many people need our help,” Forrester said. “Seniors and children make up 60 percent of where our food goes. One in four children go to bed hungry.”

She said those living paycheck to paycheck can find themselves without food if an emergency comes up and they have no more money after paying other bills, food is often that last thing they think about buying.

The food bank also encourages people to make their own gardens.

“Food stamps can be used to buy seeds,” Forrester said. “We’re working with schools to teach kids about building gardens and to give back.” The food bank just wrapped up its most successful Christmas in July Food Drive Challenge with 144 participants providing 86,000 meals to those in need.

“I’m sincerely grateful to the East Valley chambers and all their members for making Christmas in July so successful,” said Ginny Hildebrand, president and CEO of United Food Bank. “Last year we received enough food to provide over 69,000 meals and this year it increased to over 85,000 meals. I’m always amazed to see our community come together and support United Food Bank in this way.”

They may be located in Mesa, but United Food Bank serves all of the East Valley and eastern Arizona. They are working to inspire local Arizonans to take action and raise awareness about the 228,735 people, including 94,482 children, in our region who don’t know where they will get their next meal.

The effort is part of Feeding America’s Hunger Action Month in September, a nationwide effort to mobilize people throughout all 50 states to work toward ending hunger. The mayors of Mesa and other East Valley cities have declared September to be United Food Bank Hunger Action Month, urging the community to get involved with United Food Bank in its fight against hunger.

This year’s Hunger Action Month campaign is asking people to consider how it must feel to live with an empty stomach, which puts a healthy life and a promising future at risk.

“Most of us have the good fortune to know with certainty that we will have food each day,” Hildebrand said. “But that is not the reality for far too many of our neighbors in need. Think about how hard it is to concentrate when you’re hungry? For us, that’s a nuisance; for our hungry neighbors, it’s a regular occurrence. And, for children attending school, imagine the toll it takes on their ability to learn?”

This year, United Food Bank asks supporters to share what they couldn’t do without adequate nutrition by writing on an empty paper plate, “On an empty stomach I can’t ______,” and filling in the blank with something they couldn’t achieve without the nutrition we need to thrive. United Food Bank then asks supporters to take a selfie with their plate and post to social media with #HungerActionMonth, @UnitedFoodBank and @FeedingAmerica to join the conversation.

To learn more about United Food Bank, volunteer opportunities, ways to donate, and how to purchase tickets for the annual Orange Ball fundraising gala coming up on Sept. 24, visit: http://www.unitedfoodbank.org.

– Kelly Mixer is managing editor of MyNewsMesa.com. Reach her at kmixer@mynewsmesa.com.

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