Thou shouldst eat to live; not live to eat
Observing the mind-numbing presidential campaign and U.S. government inaction on the ailing economy isn’t time for citizens everywhere to actually think locally, act locally? On that score, greater Sedona is way ahead of the game. Known around the world as a Shangri-la for artists, tourists, and New Age high jinks what’s rarely celebrated is the fact that Sedona citizens “step up to the plate when asked,” asserts swarthy Vince Monaci. “This is a powerful community. I hear people say what do mean? Sedona people need a food bank, I don’t believe it. Believe it not, they do.”
He should know. Since 1999, he’s been the executive director of the Sedona Food Bank located in the lower level of the Adventist Church at 680 Sunset Drive. From the four room headquarters free food was distributed to an average of 5342 households per week last year and that adds up to 185,350 pounds of food of all kinds. For the first six months of this year, 2938 households per week were recipients, 91,621 pounds of food distributed through June. No newspaper yet has reported that on last July 4th, two tons of food were handed out, one box per household, ten pounds per member of a household, up to eight people in a household. “These days we serve anybody and everybody,” states Monaci, 79, who first volunteered with the Sedona Food Bank in 1993 back when twenty-six households received food. “We thought that was a lot of people but as time went by we learned about the growing numbers of hungry people. We are free of government bureaucracy. When the need arises the community takes up our cause. When we need them, they are there. I enjoy my job.”
When he talks of community he means financial donations (tax deductible) and food from Bashas, Safeway, Heartline Café, many others and churches such as Church of the Red Rocks where members recently collected more than 2,000 pounds of non-perishable food after pastors Ault and Cavedon put up a challenge. “We’d hoped for 1,000 pounds; unbelievable people around here.”
Every so often Vince has moments he’ll never forget. When he recalls them, he’s been known to choke up. There were days in 2008, when the stock market was crashing when couple after coup, reliable donors in the past, arrived at the food bank, tears running down their checks, telling him they were hungry, they’d lost it all. Then there were the young people, newly married, who said they needed food. They were headed for Texas where friends awaited them. “Good luck,” said one of the bank’s phenomenal 29 volunteers. “We don’t have money for gas,” said the husband. Immediately, silently, a hat was passed, and soon the couple left town with enough money to make it to Texas. Then there was the woman who appeared as if she were a customer for a food box. Instead, from out of her purse she pulled four 100 dollar bills, saying “You saved me four years ago when I was hungry and on the ropes. I will never forget this food bank, and the volunteers here.” Neither will shut-ins who are provided food once a month or the needy children, referred by teachers at West Sedona or Big Park Schools, who receive 33 backpacks filled with food weekly. Meanwhile, volunteers have noted a change in some of the attitudes around Sedona toward citizens having trouble making ends meet. Many of the same people who felt that way now stand in line waiting for food with the people they once looked down upon.
To be sure, the Sedona Food Bank remains a mystery to many people. “Public and official denial remains strong,” observes Harvey Grady, treasurer for the Verde Food Council aimed at facing the fact that in Sedona, and elsewhere in the Verde Valley and Arizona, hunger exists in these lands of abundance. All the while, for some of our leaders, existence of the need for a food bank is embarrassing. Not to Steven Benedict, however, the longtime local and legendary wilderness guide. “I was overwhelmed by my first visit there, packed as it was with an amazing diversity of people, yes packed with all ages, backgrounds, colors. I suddenly realized that hunger and poverty exist for many right here in our midst.”
Not so surprising is news of the prevalence of hunger and poverty in the Verde Valley communities where incomes are dramatically lower than Sedonan. Indeed one out of four citizens is considered food insecure by the Verde Food Council For example, The Cornville Mission Food Bank, as reported by the Camp Verde Bugle, handed out food to 3,700 people, including 1000 children in one month. Also to be found are food banks and pantries in other valley communities-Camp Verde, Rimrock, Cottonwood, Beaver Creek.
A frequent visitor to many of those dispensers of free food is the lady I’ll call Rose. A grandmother she has raised three kids all around the Valley, works odd jobs wherever there is work and was last seen checking out the Sedona Food Bank. Says she, “Nobody should go hungry around here yet many times I would have gone hungry if not for help with food and my kids would have too, without volunteers we all would have.” Like others when she gets paid she will usually make a donation to a food bank. “I am sort of paying forward for when I might be in need again someday.”
When viewed from a distance, Sedona, and the Verde Valley are fortunate to have emergency food resources. Poverty and hunger increase together according to Harvey Grady, Throughout Arizona, as well, “hunger has risen dramatically since the 2008 recession that resulted in job losses, reduced work hours, lower wages etc. Now 30% of the people in food bank lines are working but unable to feed their family or themselves without assistance.”
No doubt efforts are being made to urge schools to feed hungry kids and everyone to plant gardens so that food supplies are sustainable. As it is, most of Sedona’s food is imported from thousands of miles always, brought here on large trucks! What if war is fought over oil, and the wheels on those big trucks stop running?
In the enduring words of screenwriter William Goldman, “nobody knows anything.” Hollywood was what he was referring, to. But the same could be said for greater Sedona. Sums up Vincent, “the people come and they tell me they never thought they’d have to stand in line for food. We thought we were set for the rest of our lives. It moves you. It brings you back down to earth. It happens. It is happening here.”
By James Bishop, Jr. onetime Newsweek’s economics correspondent
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