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Grand Canyon Food Pantry expanding programs in 2023

Mike Scott stocks the Grand Canyon Food Pantry. (Joseph Giddens/WGCN)

Mike Scott stocks the Grand Canyon Food Pantry. (Joseph Giddens/WGCN)

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — The Grand Canyon Food Pantry has helped the South Rim community lower its food insecurity seven percent over two and a half years of operation and is expanding its services to local families throughout 2023.

The organization plans to offer direct delivery, install new infrastructure and assist Grand Canyon School in addition to continuing physical distribution of supplies at their South Rim location.

“In June ‘17, we started by providing sandwiches to hungry children,” said Grand Canyon Food Pantry president Mike Scott. “In July of that year we began our partnership with St.Mary’s Food Bank to provide a full lunch to food insecure children. In the 2018 lapse of government appropriations, we served 29,000 pounds of food over a two month period. According to research conducted by Feeding America, in 2017 the food insecurity rate within our operating zipcode was 21 percent; the latest figures from 2020 show it has declined to 14 percent.”

A majority of the food pantry’s stock is distributed to residents within a week to ten days and has been averaging around 525 household members per month, according to Scott. He was quick to point out that addressing food insecurity has been a collaborative effort across several local organizations including the town of Tusayan, Kaibab Learning Center and the Recreation Center, which has taken over running summer lunch programs for children.

According to the Feeding America website, the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life. It can be a temporary situation for a family or can last a long time. The organization also said food insecurity is one way to measure how many people can’t afford food. Currently, more than 34 million people, including 9 million children, experience food insecurity in the United States.

Food delivery to Indigenous residents

Thanks to grant funding, the food pantry has been delivering culturally-appropriate food to Indigenous residents living on Supai Loop since the beginning of the year. The delivery grant ends June 30, but Scott is optimistic the Food Pantry will find a way to keep deliveries going beyond that point.

“We’ve been working on doing this for the last two years (for Indigenous residents),” Scott said. “I’ve got a vehicle that’s got a commercial ThermoKing refrigeration unit so we can deliver year-round.”

He said the the final part of the process was getting some money to purchase culturally appropriate foods.

There are several economic challenges for Grand Canyon residents, according to Scott. About 20 percent of residents lack an automobile according to the last census data. There also aren’t any local stores where residents can use EBT benefits, leaving those residents to use food stamps on Amazon or spend extra gas money to go to Williams or Flagstaff. Many seasonal workers live in dormitory-style housing and lack a proper kitchen for meal preparation.

“Even though wages are relatively high compared with recreational destination sites, so are costs for our community,” Scott said. “We’re on the edge of nothing and we’re at the end of the line and it’s tough to get from here to Flagstaff.”

Grand Canyon School

The food pantry’s impact extends to students at Grand Canyon School. The organization assisted the district by applying for and receiving a grant for the remainder of the 2023 school year to provide healthy snacks such as apples and string cheese to students staying for after-school tutoring. Additionally, food lockers are replacing the school’s backpack program for distributing weekend food items to families.

“There was a bit of a stigma for the backpack,” said Grand Canyon School Superintendent Matt Yost. “It was also challenging for a little kid to carry this massive (10 to 12 pound) backpack with canned food, so we thought that the food lockers would be a good substitute.”

The school district has shifted to providing direct support to families according to Yost, who said the district reaches out to the food pantry when a student with food insecurity is identified by staff to help provide meals to those in need over the weekend. Yost said school staff have been stocking food lockers so families can get food in times of need, and he said food lockers are being discussed at other locations within Grand Canyon Village. Their location will be decided in the next few months, and additional food lockers will soon be installed for families who reside in Valle.

“The Grand Canyon Food Pantry has been fantastic for us,” Yost said. “If they have extra or if they’ve done a massive delivery, they’re always in contact with the school to see if we can use it. It is absolutely Mike Scott’s mission and vision to make sure no one goes without food in Grand Canyon National Park.”

The food pantry is a qualifying charitable organization, which allows Arizona residents to donate up to $400 per person for a dollar-to-dollar state tax credit. It is staffed completely by volunteers and is always looking for additional volunteers to assist with food distributions in two hour shifts.

“I started hearing about the food pantry during the beginning of the pandemic,” said Grand Canyon Food Pantry volunteer Celia Dubin. “It doesn’t matter a (resident’s) income, the pantry strives to feed all who need or want it.”

Reducing Grand Canyon residents’ reliance on commuting to Flagstaff for groceries and the sheer amount of food St. Mary’s brought to the South Rim spurred Dubin to volunteer at the pantry.

Dubin later was afflicted with mild but chronic health issues that made strenuous hikes difficult, causing her to become more secluded and not spending much time outside. She found that volunteering with her husband Tom Long at the pantry, socializing and giving back to other South Rim residents helped her on her path of healing.

“Commitments are difficult, especially for volunteering,” Dubin said. “I have to stop myself from signing up for too many shifts to not burn myself out. If more people were to volunteer, even if they plan to just take two or four shifts a year, they can get their own great experience while lessening the chance of burn out for the routine volunteers.”

For more information visit www.grandcanyonfoodpantry.org.

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