By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
It wasn’t the Good Friday Grand Canyon University expected — but it was the Good Friday it needed.
It was noon Thursday, just before the three-day Easter holiday, when GCU Community Relations Director Debbie Accomazzo received a call from CityServe Logistics Administrator Jenni Kripner. GCU has been partnering with the organization since December to distribute food to families in need as part of the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program, created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those previous distribution opportunities were scheduled well in advance, giving the University time to reach out to its partners, identify families in need and line up volunteers. Thursday, however, was different. Kripner told Accomazzo that Shamrock Farms had three truckloads of food boxes prepared and ready to distribute the next day.
“Would GCU like them?” she asked.
“When that call came in, it scared me as much as it thrilled me,” Accomazzo said. “But I knew there was only one answer to give. I mean, you don’t say no. This is your opportunity to say yes.”
So that’s what GCU did.
“That’s kind of the GCU way,” GCU President Brian Mueller said of how the GCU community came together and mobilized so quickly to make the food distribution happen. “It’s especially meaningful this weekend because it’s Easter weekend and it’s Good Friday and people typically have plans, but for them to cancel that and say, listen, we have a special opportunity here to give food out to hungry people so they can have a good Easter. For them to show up and do this is really inspirational.”
Staff on a wide range of University teams started emailing, texting and calling to find a home for the approximately 2,300 boxes of food that Shamrock Farms was scheduled to deliver to the campus at 8 a.m. the next day (GCU ended up receiving two of the three truckloads of food). The University had been building quite the spreadsheet of contacts since the Farmers to Families disbursements first started.
“We only had a three-hour window,” said Jaci Curran, GCU’s Local Outreach Manager, before the meeting to finalize the details for the distribution. What made the effort even more challenging was that since it’s the Easter holiday weekend, many of the organizations GCU partners with for the food distributions were out of the office for the holiday.
“But even if they weren’t able to do it, they were willing to send out a text blast, they were willing to send out an email blast to the people in their care, notifying them of the (food) drive,” Curran said.
It’s how foster mom Kelly Shoup heard about the event.
Arizona Helping Hands, the largest provider of essential needs for children in foster care in the state, used social media to tell its foster families about the event.
The Farmers to Families initiative, part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, is in its fifth round of distributions. More than 153.5 million boxes of fresh produce, dairy and meats have been placed in the hands of disadvantaged Americans across the country.
As soon as Shoup heard, she called her biggest supporter, her mom Teddi Deming, to pick up a box for her family, which includes three foster children. She's at home with the children while her husband, who serves in the military, is deployed.
Deming was the first in line to pick up boxes at the Farmers to Families site at the University's church property at 31st Avenue and West Camelback Road.
“I just got out of the hospital yesterday -- I had my appendix out – but my daughter calls and asks me if I can come here. I said, ‘Of course I can!’” Deming said enthusiastically.
She was picking up a box not just for her daughter but for herself and a couple of other families, too.
“It’s going to definitely help with our grocery bill, and we have three growing kids, so that’s very helpful to have anything extra in the house,” Shoup said.
Much like Arizona Helping Hands worked quickly to tell its families about the next-day food distribution event, GCU worked nimbly to rally its volunteers to man the event.
Reese Garcia, a freshman music education major and Canyon Christian Schools Consortium scholar, heard about the distribution from Thundering Heard Pep Band Director Dr. Paul Koch. When the Spirit Team leaders put out the call for volunteers, Garcia didn’t hesitate.
“It’s Easter weekend. Why not try to do something good?” Garcia said. “There’s so many people around that need so many different things.”
GCU cheerleader and CCSC scholar Luke Light, who volunteered alongside fellow cheerleader Hope Gibson, also looked to the deeper meaning of Easter when he signed up for the event.
Light said, “I think the whole purpose for living life like Christ is to represent things that He would do, so not just saying it but putting our faith into action and showing we’re here for the area, we’re here for our families. We’re all brothers and sisters in Christ.”
What was unique about the Good Friday Farmers to Families distribution is that volunteers had the chance to interact directly with families.
For most distribution events, GCU contacts its partner organizations, or PODs (Points of Distribution). Those community organizations, school districts and church groups pick up the food, then distribute it to the community.
This time, families in need responded to the email blasts and posts on social media.
“This gives our students the opportunity just to connect with the community in a direct level,” Curran said.
The event, which was slated to run from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., wrapped up a little after 1 p.m., with food from the 2,300 boxes likely to make it onto the table just in time for Easter Sunday.
Accomazzo said after the flurry of activity on Thursday to plan this distribution event in less than a day, she showed up the morning of Good Friday to a team of University students and staff just happy to be there.
“An event that was going to take place on Good Friday? It just kind of felt meaningful, and maybe that’s just me romanticizing the way that I do. It just all came together exactly the way that it should,” Accomazzo said. “None of us were supposed to be here today, not a single one of us. But we were more excited to be here on a day off than just a regular day of work, which says we all get what’s happening here.”
She said the event brought home the meaning of Good Friday, a day that reminds us of our vulnerabilities.
“There is another side to that, and I feel like that’s exactly what we’re seeing here today. It reminds us there is salvation."
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.