By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
To have our family, our friends, our health: When we speak about what we're thankful for this year, what we say and what we're focused on may be different from any other year.
The same is true for Give with Purpose, a holiday employee giving campaign centered around food insecurity in Arizona.
In pre-COVID-19 years, the two- to three-week campaign would include a chance for employees who donate to St. Mary's Food Bank to win some spectacular prizes, from courtside seats to a men’s basketball game to a signed basketball or dinner for six. Also during those few weeks, Grand Canyon University and Grand Canyon Education employees would volunteer during the organization's turkey distribution event, the food bank’s Super Bowl of Turkeys, if you will.
But like so many events, Give with Purpose will lift spirits in a different way this year.
With social distancing protocols in place, the University is not sending volunteers to the food bank’s turkey distribution, and a drawing for prizes didn’t seem to fit the tone of the times.
“We’ve been doing this employee fundraiser for more than 10 years, so the year of the pandemic would NOT be the year that GCU would step away from our mission of addressing food insecurity,” Community Relations Manager Debbie Accomazzo said.
She shared some sobering statistics from Matt Cooper, Food Drive Coordinator for the food bank:
- This has been the most challenging year for St. Mary’s Food Bank in its 53-year history.
- When the pandemic reached Arizona in March and April, the number of food bank clients doubled and, at one point, tripled, at a time when 80% of its volunteer force disappeared.
- The nonprofit’s mobile pantry program nearly doubled, from 40 to approximately 70 locations in the spring of 2020, moving to sports stadiums and other expansive spaces to accommodate the hundreds of families in need.
- According to a June 2020 survey of St. Mary’s clients visiting its Knight Distribution Center, 50% of those receiving food never had been to the food bank before the pandemic -- many families are in need of emergency food for the first time.
“They had never distributed 10 million pounds in a month – ever – of food; now that’s just an average for them. That’s what they do. That’s who they are,” Accomazzo said of St. Mary’s, which somehow is distributing 25% more than it did last year, even with fewer volunteers. “Things just got real this year, and we would be remiss NOT to acknowledge that.”
After wondering whether Give with Purpose would even BE this year, Accomazzo said that wonder turned into reality. The campaign has come together in just the past week.
Once the decision was made to move forward with St. Mary’s Food Bank in its greatest time of need, Accomazzo said the thought was to step back from giveaways and contests. Instead, “What this office has decided is that the year of the pandemic is the year to just drill down into the mission.”
Give with Purpose, which runs through Dec. 4 and includes corporate matches from Grand Canyon Education and Pono Construction, kicks off with the Super Saturday Turkey Drive. It will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Safeway, 3132 E. Camelback Road.
GCU baseball will be onsite (and socially distanced) to collect donations of turkeys, nonperishable items and cash for the food bank. In 2019, the team amassed a little more than $2,080 and 81 turkeys.
Those turkeys will be headed to the food bank just in time for its holiday distribution Monday through Wednesday, when more than 12,000 families are expected to take part in the event.
Another Athletics team, GCU basketball, makes its season debut to a student-only audience Wednesday at GCU Arena in a game against Grambling State. The food bank will be the featured charity during the pregame broadcast. Those who post a selfie that night with the hashtag #GCUgivewithpurpose may be featured in GCU Today on Tuesday, Dec. 1.
For those whose game is food rather than baseball or basketball, consider buying one of Angie’s Pies from Canyon 49 Grill. The confections, available in pecan or pumpkin, are the creation of Angie Celis, a former pastry chef at The Phoenician who’s now at GCU. (Read more about her here.) For each $15 pie purchased during the Give with Purpose campaign, $1 will go to the food bank.
Employees also can look for collection boxes in the GCU Hotel lobby. It’s where they can donate nonperishable canned goods, which are in critically low supply at the food bank.
Employees also will have the opportunity to donate via the online Give with Purpose donation page. Every dollar donated to the food bank is enough to provide seven meals to those in need.
Then there’s the big Turkey Town Hall Informational on Dec. 1, which is Giving Tuesday, the global “generosity movement” that encourages people to give back to their community. The virtual town hall, accessible via Zoom, will feature food bank representatives as well as champions from GCU, GCE, Pono Construction and the Learning Lounge.
“It’s just a way to connect employees back to the mission that they’ve supported so generously for the last four years and the greater mission that they’ve supported for more than 10 years,” said Accomazzo.
Give with Purpose will wrap up with the campus’ tree lighting ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, at Canyon 49 Grill, before the campaign ends the next day.
It was in 2017 that St. Mary’s Food Bank became Give with Purpose’s chosen charity, though its relationship with GCU extends even further back.
The organization started delivering meals to the Learning Lounge in 2013 -- about 50 cold meals six days a week to elementary and high school students participating in the innovative program in which K-12 students receive academic assistance from GCU scholars.
“That was an incredible gesture that was unsolicited on GCU’s part,” Accomazzo said. “But it was a need that they recognized they could fulfill, knowing Canyon Corridor families, and particularly Alhambra High School families, well enough to know that those students (in the Learning Lounge) may be part of the families that St. Mary’s serves.”
Since 2017, Give with Purpose has contributed more than $41,000 to St. Mary’s Food Bank, which has supplied nearly 300,000 meals. GCU and GCE hope to provide even more as the pandemic continues to drive some of that need and as we continue to focus on what's important: friends, family, our health.
"The most important part of Give with Purpose 2020," Accomazzo said, "is to connect our employee champions with this mission and what’s happening in the backyard of Grand Canyon University."
For questions about Give with Purpose: email [email protected].
To donate: Click here
Register here: For the Turkey Town Hall Informational event on Dec. 1
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
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