Central Arizona Food Bank closes

Ruth Cheneweth and John Ask of the Central AZ Food Bank. VVN/Jon Hutchinson

Ruth Cheneweth and John Ask of the Central AZ Food Bank. VVN/Jon Hutchinson

COTTONWOOD -- The Central Arizona Food Bank located on Main Street near 10th Street closed last week after 17 years.

Ruth and Ed Cheneweth had admired became close to the women who formerly ran the food bank when it was operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

But the operation got so big that the church could not operate it, the Cheneweths took over the operation and moved it to the Main Street warehouse.

"The need was there. We moved here under our foundation, the Friendship Mission in 1997," said Ruth Cheneweth.

"We were always concerned about waste and so we were very conscious of refrigeration."

The Cheneweths had worked with a lot of other food banks over the years. One in Gallup, N.M., run by Navajo Jim Harlan was very efficient.

The operation installed three-phase electricity and filled warehouses with refrigeration. John Ask, who is a volunteer manager, said the Food Bank has about 300 square feet of refrigerated space.

They have been able to refrigerate pallets of produce, fresh meat, dozens of eggs

Ed Cheneweth died about eight years ago, but urged Ruth to continue to operate the food bank for as long as she could.

Ruth said they have always had volunteers who have been dedicated to helping the poor and hungry, but the food bank business is changing universally. Food has gotten expensive to provide and many items are no longer available. A key issue, Ruth believes, is that such operations cannot support costly salaries.

"There is no room for a payroll if it is taking away from purchasing the food," she said.

Volunteerism and donations are the key to a successful operation. The Food Bank has been operating with about 34 volunteers, successful people who have skills with accounting, shipping and technical skills. The Food Bank has had an assembly line of volunteers packing 400 to 600 boxes a month, or filling backpacks for weekend meals.

There are many pantries, according to Ruth, but the Central Arizona Food Bank has been the only operation that has always offered produce and bread in addition to simply dry packaged goods.

But food hasn't been the only story for Ruth and John. People often need more than food. They tell of life stories; the grandmother who cares for the kids while her son is in jail.

"People have been wonderful to me. We are so thankful. Our list of donors has been lengthy. She says Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army have been great partners in emergency situations and she has teamed up with St. Vincent de Paul to help with individual's problems.

Ruth, at 76, is going to use all her extra time to enjoy her grandchildren but for nearly two generations, she has filled a community need.

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