On April 1, The Eastern Santa Cruz County Community Food Bank (ESCCCFB) moved into its new space at 772 Harshaw Road in Patagonia. Its prior space at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Patagonia was a stopgap location when the Food Bank lost its long-term lease in the building across from the Fire Department. Jim Staudacher, President of the Board of ESCCCFB, and volunteer manager of the Food Bank’s operations, said, “The church was never a permanent solution. We stayed much longer than we had planned because of Covid. It was very challenging space for our volunteers to work in, especially as demand increased over the past several years.”
South32 owns the cinder block two-story building that now houses the Food Bank. The building was formerly used as a dormitory and meeting space for the Tree of Life. The first floor has been completely repaired and repurposed by South32 to meet the needs of the Food Bank. They have also repaired and remodeled the adjacent one-story brick building for the Food Bank’s administrative office, conference room, break space, and bathrooms. ESCCCFB has signed a five-year lease, with option to renew, for the two spaces. The rent is $1 a year.
Staudacher is very excited about the new digs. When asked what’s different about the new space compared to the old space, Staudacher said, “Everything! We have an overhead door/loading dock; a lot of open space and shelving for storage of non-perishable food; a conveyor belt surrounded by tables to streamline sorting and preparation of food bags for distribution; a large commercial refrigerator; a double commercial sink, great lighting, heating and cooling; a large gravel area to support both food truck deliveries and the monthly drive-through distribution of food bags to local clients; and a terrific administrative space for our volunteer workforce. It was a long wait but definitely worth it. South32 listened really well to us. We are very grateful.”
Melanie Lawson, South32 Communities Principal, said that, although initial talks with the Food Bank began in mid-2019, several things slowed down the design and construction process. The cement block building had become a home for many, many bats. South32 called in a bat expert to learn how to safely remove them, during non-breeding season, and then seal up the building to keep them from returning. And then, of course, there was Covid.
Both buildings needed a full structural assessment and required significant repair and plumbing and electrical upgrades. South32 added a large overhead door/loading dock, new sidewalks making the first floor of the cinder block building and the administrative building handicapped accessible, and put in a circular driveway with a large gravel area to facilitate truck deliveries. Staudacher is particularly pleased that the new space, combined with new equipment like a pallet jack and the conveyor belt, lightens the physical load for the approximately 20 Food Bank volunteers. The second floor of the cinder block building is not structurally sound and South32 does not intend to upgrade it for occupancy.
The first regular monthly food distribution at the Food Bank’s new home took place on Saturday, April 8. Food had been delivered, sorted, and stored, grocery bags had been filled with food and moved to the drive-thru set up in front of the building. The flow of vehicles through the drive-by pick up worked without a hitch.
The new Food Bank location is within the Community Zone established by South32, a 1.5-mile radius around Patagonia where industrial activities will be excluded, except for temporary laydown storage.
Lawson also said that South 32 is committed to using local professionals whenever possible. Arturo Vazquez of Design W was the architect for the project and Quality Care Construction owned by Danny Mendoza was the general contractor.
Approximately 300 households participate in the monthly Food Bank distribution. The clients come from all over Eastern Santa Cruz County (a 700 sq. mile area) and are approximately 80% Hispanic.
The Food Bank provides 12 regular food distributions a year, the second Saturday of the month from 8:30a.m to 10:30a.m. and three special distributions of hams and turkeys for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The variety of foods is determined by a combination of availability, cost, and client preferences. Most of the food is purchased from Costco and the Fry’s warehouse in Tucson. Also, the Methodist Church and the Patagonia Middle and High Schools conduct food drives that help stock the Food Bank coffers.
In addition to services offered at the new location, the Food Bank provides a weekly vegetable distribution on Mondays from 10:30-11:30a.m., November through April, in front of the Senior Center in Patagonia. The Food Bank also offers emergency food (picked up or delivered) upon request.
The Food Bank was established in 1994 as a 501c3 nonprofit organization in Patagonia. Food costs are approximately 90% of the Food Bank’s annual operating budget which, in 2022, was a little over $30,000. The primary sources of funds are small grants and private donations. If you would like to support the Food Bank’s operations, you can write a check to ESCCCFB and mail it to PO Box 1147, Patagonia, AZ 85624.