GCU, CityServe continue to connect with community
Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
Mobilizing the troops. It’s just what the R.A.P.I.D. Community-based COVID-19 Response Coalition does, gathering health care workers and volunteers from every corner possible on a moment’s notice and dispatching them in the community for its coronavirus testing blitzes.
The group is a well-oiled machine when it comes to COVID-19 testing, swabs always at the ready.
But R.A.P.I.D. coalition partner Equality Health Foundation is doing something a little differently. It slowed down just long enough this week to arm itself with yet another tool.
On Wednesday, it was one of 17 community organizations, or PODs (points of distribution), that received more than 1,100 food boxes at Grand Canyon University’s third USDA Farmers to Families Food Box distribution in partnership with CityServe International. The food boxes, which also were distributed at GCU in December, were disbursed at a new location, the University’s church property at 31st Avenue and Camelback Road.
In January, the White House announced it would pump an additional $1.5 billion into the now $6 billion program. Since May, the United States Department of Agriculture has purchased agricultural products from food distributors – food that might otherwise go to waste during the pandemic because of school shut-downs, restaurant closings and the like – and has distributed the products to families in need via partners such as CityServe and GCU. In 2020, the program disbursed 132.8 million boxes of food.
The additional funding extends the program, which is in its fifth round of distributions, through April.
Tomás León, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Strategy for Equality Health, heard about Farmers to Families from GCU Community Relations Director Debbie Accomazzo. Equality Health and the R.A.P.I.D. coalition partnered with the University in the fall, when they brought two COVID testing events to campus.
León knew how important those food boxes would be to the vulnerable and underserved communities it champions – many of the same communities of essential workers, refugees and immigrants that GCU champions in west Phoenix, the ones hardest hit by the pandemic.
So in addition to offering COVID-19 testing and flu shots provided by the city of Phoenix Fire Department, Equality Health Foundation on Saturday will offer 150 Farmers to Families food boxes at its COVID-19 testing event at Westwood Elementary School, an event supported by the R.A.P.I.D. coalition and the Alhambra Elementary School District (see the flyer here).
Not only is the group addressing community health through COVID testing and flu shots, it is addressing food insecurity as well.
“We know this pandemic has created economic hardship for many families, resulting in food insecurities,” said León, who shared that 937,300 Arizonans struggle with hunger (one in five of those children), according to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap 2020 study. “Families are struggling with employment and putting food on the table.”
“Part of the beauty of CityServe is mobilizing these PODs,” said Accomazzo on Wednesday while on the way to deliver more than 120 food boxes to yet another community organization.
With Equality Health Foundation and the R.A.P.I.D. coalition, the thread of community ties was there, said Accomazzo, “We just activated a new angle of it. … This is another way we can bring resource to need.”
GCU connected resource to need not just for the Equality Health Foundation and R.A.P.I.D. coalition but to groups such as UMOM New Day Centers, which provides shelter, services and affordable housing to people experiencing homelessness.
UMOM Youth and Community Specialist K.J. Williams arrived at the 31st Avenue and Camelback distribution site to pick up 38 boxes of food.
This is the second time UMOM has received Farmers to Families food boxes.
“I think one box lasted three weeks for a family of four,” said Williams.
The 30- to 40-pound boxes, packaged and delivered in refrigerated trucks by distributor Shamrock Farms, were packed with everything from milk to cheese and bags of apples, onions, potatoes and carrots.
“This is the product that has been keeping us afloat,” said a representative of one community organization that did not want to be identified.
Another group, Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest, whose services include helping the refugee and homeless communities, the elderly, and families in times of crisis, traveled to the Farmers to Families site in six vehicles to pick up 80 boxes.
Lutheran Social Services Family Support Services Program Manager Leonor Garcia said the program she helps oversee serves 150 families that are stretched thin right now because of COVID. They are juggling parenting at home and facing job loss, food insecurity and the loss of many of their social supports as they isolate at home.
GCU Global Outreach Manager Torrey Allen was getting ready to deliver 60 boxes of food being loaded into a GCU van to refugee families that Global Outreach has been working with for years.
“These are families we’re connected to,” she said.
Canyon Christian Schools Consortium scholar Mackenzie Graves, a marketing major who is slated to graduate in December, was part of a contingent of CCSC volunteers busy loading boxes into cars.
She worked with a homeless ministry in high school and has a heart for helping people – she’s thinking of working for nonprofits after graduation.
“I like meeting people,” she said of stepping away from her studies to volunteer at events like Farmers to Families.
CCSC scholar Angee Avila, an early childhood education freshman, said of being able to serve those in need, “It’s a very humbling experience. I enjoy going to a school that will give me this opportunity.”
Avila back home volunteered with a ministry at her church that works to help children in Mexico.
“It fostered the need and want to go out and help people,” she said.
And she will get more chances to do that at GCU, which will distribute about 1,100 more food boxes at the next CityServe Farmers to Families distribution Feb. 24 with more distribution events coming up in March and April.
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.