“Our area is commonly known as a food desert,” said Jim Staudacher, President of East Santa Cruz County Community Food Bank, referring to the lack of easy and affordable access to healthy foods in the county.
Although, according to azfoodbanks.org, Arizona is the third largest producer of vegetables and fruits in the U.S., one in seven Arizonans was struggling with food insecurity (a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life, as defined by USDA) even before the pandemic. Since the beginning of Covid-19, almost one in three households has experienced food insecurity. The rates are highest for single parent households and those with incomes below the poverty line. Children, seniors, and rural Arizonans are at greater risk.
“This situation has been exacerbated this spring (and for the past two years) by record high price inflation, pushing food and fuel prices out of reach for many,” Staudacher said. “The East Santa Cruz County Community Food Bank offers emergency food and monthly supplemental food to residents in need, as do other community and church organizations.”
“During the fall and winter months it is easier for residents to get fresh produce due to the efforts of community groups, but in summer those supplies largely dry up,” he said.
Staudacher noted that an important factor in food insecurity is a lack of transportation for rural and town residents of Patagonia. Some are having to choose between gasoline to drive to work and food to feed their families.
“During the pandemic, the food bank partnered with other not-for-profit groups to distribute weekly food boxes to residents provided by PPEP (Portable Practical Educational Preparation, Inc.) and the Federal Government,” he said. “These food boxes were a lifeline for many residents during the height of the pandemic. However, they were discontinued in June 2021.”
Staudacher also credited the stimulus payments for shoring up strained budgets, but they have also ended.
Community organizations that feed and support families are desperately trying to fundraise and create strategies to make their budget dollars stretch. It does not appear that there will be help in the form of additional stimulus payments or food boxes in the near future.
The Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center is one example of a local nonprofit working to lessen the effects of food insecurity. Anna Coleman works with between 30 to 40 youths, ages 10 to 20 years, who are from families with financial challenges. At the Center they make dinner and socialize between 4 and 8p.m. Coleman explained that the youth are learning nutrition and how to cook healthy food. They enjoy fruits and vegetables, are learning how to create a vegetable garden, and plan meals together.
“The community at large has a high number of hard-working families that are facing the challenges of increased food prices,” Coleman said. “We are teaching youth about sustainability so they can go out into the world with a set of skills to obtain healthy food and nourish themselves. They don’t have to be dependent on processed foods.”
Both East Santa Cruz County Community Food Bank and the Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center welcome donations during this time of food crisis in our area.