Learn how this branch of the Tucson Community Food Bank built a thriving community and a low-input
Photo: Valley Presbyterian Church | Amado Community Food Bank
Amado Community Food Bank
2005 Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Award Winner
28720 S. Nogales Hwy
Amado, AZ 85645
Phone : (520) 398-2942
Fax : (520) 398-2261
Email : [email protected]
It doesn’t take long after setting foot inside the Amado Community Food Bank to realize what a community fixture it is. People of all backgrounds, ages and walks of life are sorting through clothes, bagging groceries or just stopping by to lend a hand or share the latest local news and gossip. Conversations weave between Spanish and English, or sometimes a mixture of the two. The line is comfortably blurred between those there to help and get help – clearly this food bank is just as much about building community as it is about distributing food.
The Amado Community Food Bank is situated in the rural town of Amado in southern Arizona, just 30 miles north of the Mexican border. Amado faces many of the same challenges faced throughout rural America. The decline of surrounding agricultural and mining industries has meant a decline in job opportunities, and there is a lack of local enterprises to keep wealth circulating within the community. Poverty rates are high, with 93% of the children in the local public school qualifying for free or reduced school meals. Amado also lacks such basic services as doctors, dentists, mental health providers, hospitals and pharmacies. A trip to the nearest supermarket requires a 44-mile round trip. Transportation is a major challenge in this area, and one can appreciate the enormity of this issue in considering the Food Bank’s vast service area of 600 square miles.
Since the Amado Community Food Bank was started by a group of volunteers in 1988, it has expanded its services in response to community needs, becoming a branch bank of the Tucson Community Food Bank in 1997. The Food Bank distributes food directly to community members on-site as well as to smaller emergency food providers within its service area. In addition to canned and dry goods, it distributes fresh fruit, vegetables and bread on a daily basis. Community partnerships have helped to sustain the Food Bank over the years despite periodic drops in donations from other sources. The Food Bank has a WIC coordinator on site each week who works with pregnant women and mothers with young children to meet their specific nutritional needs. The Food Bank also houses a clothing bank/thrift store and hosts regular visits from a mobile health clinic and the Value Food Store of the Tucson Community Food Bank, a mobile market that sells low-cost grocery items. Additional services include GED, ESL, and citizenship classes, job referral, utility assistance referral, free contraceptives, and more.
With the recognition that children in the community are at much greater risk of hunger during the summer when they can no longer count on school meals, the food bank started a federally-funded summer meals program. The program has grown from two to nine feeding sites and has been a great success. In a discussion with WhyHunger, staff of Arivaca Human Resources, one of the feeding sites, testified as to what a critical asset these meals are to their youth services – both for the nutrition they provide and for the accompanying educational components. Through a partnership with the local cooperative extension agency, this meals program includes nutrition education and cooking classes that culminate in a dinner that the youth cook for their families. The Food Bank is interested in partnering with nearby Native American communities to make summer meals available on their reservation as well.
Rather than following the national trend of expanding facilities to increase food storage capacity, the Amado Community Food Bank has expanded in order to increase community capacity. In 2007, the Food Bank completed a 4,000 square foot addition to be used as both a community space and a commercial kitchen. In addition to preparation of summer meals and meals for congregate feeding programs, planned activities for the commercial kitchen include canning and other forms of food preservation. The facility will also include a dining area and additional space for community activities.
As part of its mission to foster community food security and to promote rural development, the Food Bank initiated the Edible Landscape Project on the land surrounding the facility. WhyHunger honored the Food Bank with a Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Award for this innovative project. Food Bank Director Tony Bruno, a small-scale farmer and rancher himself, says that overall, “Agriculture is dying in Arizona.” The Edible Landscape Project showcases an alternative, demonstrating sustainable, low-input techniques for cultivating food from plants in the desert environment. The plantings range from fruit trees to palo verde (a tree with beans that can be ground into a high-protein flour) to a Native American pit garden containing tepary beans, corn and squash. The Food Bank shares the harvest with its clients, and offers resources for those who wish to grow their own food. This project, which is being replicated elsewhere by partners at cooperative extension, is part of broader efforts of the Food Bank to restore the region’s food system.
While Tony is deeply committed to this kind of grassroots initiative, he emphasizes that government support is also critical to ensuring that all community members are able to have healthy, affordable food and secure livelihoods. The Food Bank’s role as a hub of community organizing and advocacy is therefore critical to its mission. “Political education for political change is key to getting people out of poverty,” says Tony.
Adapted from a 2006 field report by former WhyHunger Global Movements Program Director Christina Schiavoni.
To meet more people and organizations growing the movement for access to healthy, nutritious food, click through the WhyHunger Storytelling project.