Photo by JC Amberlyn.
Catherine Walker was about to close the food bank Tuesday when a woman walked in with a sad story, something about a fire and four kids at home with absolutely nothing to eat.
The woman lifted her shirt to show a nasty, swollen red wound on her stomach as proof that she wasn’t lying, at least not about the fire.
“Honestly, we have no food, nothing at all,” the woman said.
Walker, executive director of Kingman Food Bank for seven months, took an identification card from the woman and tracked her last trip to the food bank, which was about three weeks ago. She wasn’t due for another pick-up until Feb. 2.
A forceful, energetic woman originally from New York, Walker instructed her volunteers to put together an emergency package for the woman anyway.
“How can you tell anyone they can’t have food?” Walker said. “You can’t tell if they need it or not. Somebody might pull up in a new
Mercedes-Benz, but they just lost their job. The spectrum is wide.”
She has to be careful, though, because a lot of people know how to “play the system.” They’ll go from the food bank to the Salvation Army to the rescue mission, collecting more than they need, Walker said.
“They’re druggies and alcoholics. They’ll take their food and sell it, so you’re in a hard spot here,” the food bank director said.
The list of impoverished, mentally ill, unemployable and otherwise down-on-their-luck folks who receive free food is monitored by St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix, which is part of the Association of Arizona Food Banks.
Plenty of food
Fortunately, the Kingman Food Bank cupboards are stocked, even after meeting the needs of 750 people in two days before Thanksgiving and then going through the Christmas rush. It never stopped, Walker said.
On average, the food bank fills a grocery cart with meat, vegetables, fruit, canned goods and staples for 175 people a day.
Walker opened two large freezers that were packed with about 500 pounds of Spring Hill Brand hams, leftovers delivered by St. Mary’s.
The food bank received boxes upon boxes of broccoli cuts and frozen TV dinners when a truck broke down on Interstate 40. More food comes from casinos in Laughlin and local grocery stores, such as Smith’s and Walmart.
“Hunger is not a food bank problem. It’s a community problem,” Walker said. “The whole community has to get together and solve the problem.”
Most of the donated food is going to waste or approaching its expiration date, Walker said.
If it doesn’t find its way into homes, the food is distributed to local churches and other organizations, and what they don’t take is left for a local pig farmer to pick up, Walker added.
“Actually, I have had wonderful support,” she said. “We’re actually overloaded because the freezer’s full. We’ve got an abundance of eggs. I can see my inventory levels and I know I’m good for about two months.”
Some of the food bank clients are on fixed incomes and can’t afford simple household items.
Walker said she has a “wonderful connection” at Cascade at Kingman Airport, which provided a couple pallets of toilet paper and paper towels for the food bank. UniSource Energy Services donated lightbulbs.
Walker said the food bank is a “smooth operation” with about 30 volunteers who sort through the donations, checking expiration dates and separating different types of food.
“I love my job,” Walker said. “No two days are the same. Every day it’s a different ball game. And when you give food to someone and see their face, you see how they’re very appreciative, it’s worth it.”
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