Mon, March 30

Volunteers inspire Ruth Cheneweth
Director credits workers for food bank's success

The Central Arizona Food Bank distributes about 1.6 million pounds of food each year. It helps a lot of people. Hungry people.

Ruth Cheneweth, director of the food bank, says those people -- many of them children -- are fed because of the dedication of about 40 volunteers.

"We are an all-volunteer organization," Cheneweth said. "It's a privilege for me and my husband (Ed Cheneweth) to work here with all these volunteers."

Located in Cottonwood, the food bank serves people throughout the Verde Valley from its facilities at 654 N. Main Street. Friendship Mission International bought the buildings for the food bank. "We pay $1 a year for rent," she said. "It created a very unique situation, we don't have overhead."

Run by the Arizona Food & Family Foundation, the food bank has several programs that distribute food, much of it collected by volunteers from grocery stores in the Verde Valley and Sedona.

One program is the Emergency Pantry. That service is for people who find themselves in a tight spot that wasn't foreseen. It allows people to come in and actually pick out the food items needed most.

"We wanted an emergency pantry where people come in and tell us what they need," she said. "Most of these families have children. We try to have things like cereal that the kids want and see on TV. We try to have those items specifically for families."

The Emergency Pantry serves about 35 families each of the three days per week it is open.

The Senior Program is designed to help people 60 and older who simply cannot afford to feed themselves properly. Each month about 500 boxes filled with 30 pounds of food items are distributed to seniors throughout the Verde Valley. The food bank also delivers 80 of those boxes each month to seniors who cannot get out.

Boxes for Children is another program and is designed very similar to the Senior Program but specially for families with kids. Currently, there are about 25 families receiving additional food through this program.

Cheneweth thinks the Co-op Program is one of the food bank's best. "We have helped a lot of people to stop depending on somebody else," she said. The program allows people to come in once a month and pay $15 (food stamps accepted) to receive about $60 worth of food. Two packages are included. One is a box of dry food items, and another is for fresh food, including vegetables, fruit and 8-lbs. of meat. The Co-op is currently serving about 140 clients each month.

Cheneweth puts in about 40 hours a week running the food bank. "But that's nothing compared to a lot of our people here," she said.

"Our secret is our volunteers," she said. "You learn so much from them."

She said the volunteers are so dedicated to the food bank that she never even has to buy office supplies. "That's how dedicated these people are."

The volunteers are, in fact, the reason that Cheneweth stays on as director year after year. "It's hard work," she said. "But I get a lot of inspiration from the volunteers I work with.

"It's just like family."

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