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Chino Valley volunteer group works to feed Hungry Kids

Chino Valley volunteers sort through donated green bags for the local Hungry Kids project and emergency food pantry. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

Chino Valley volunteers sort through donated green bags for the local Hungry Kids project and emergency food pantry. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

In less than an hour on the morning of Thursday, Oct. 11, 15 energetic Chino Valley volunteers — retirees to high school and college students — emptied and organized more than 175 reusable green grocery bags filled with non-perishables such as juice boxes, soups, macaroni and cheese and peanut butter.

It was the first time the Chino Valley Unified Education Foundation had embarked on a solo food drive to supply its Hungry Kids Project and its emergency food pantry for homeless/in-need families.

“I thought it was fantastic,” said Hungry Kids Project volunteer coordinator Rich Spencer.

The first all-community drive generated some 2,000 pounds of donated food.

Yavapai College sophomore Alex Daniels and his sister, Addy, a Chino Valley High School senior, regular volunteers with the local Hungry Kids Project, spearheaded the all-local effort after attending a summer Yavapai Food Neighbors sorting event in Prescott to obtain food needed for their community. The brother-and-sister team were convinced they could garner enough donations from within the Chino Valley community to take care of their own – they started with 50 green bags from the Yavapai Good Neighbors project and then solicited about 500 more from Yavapai Bottle Gas.

In September, the siblings visited local schools, churches and civic groups to educate people about the necessity of the Hungry Kids Project and emergency food pantry. They passed out some 270 bags and then last week collected almost 200 from various distribution points around town.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, the brother and sister along with Hungry Kids project leader Rich Spencer and a dozen other volunteers gathered in a donated room at Heritage Middle School to sort through the items that next week will be going home to students as well as fill the pantry shelves for an invitation-only food collection day for select families who could otherwise not afford to buy such groceries.

With speed and efficiency, the volunteers stacked up cartons of juice boxes, apple sauce, raisins, Pop Tarts, individual-size instant puddings and snack fruit, Ramen Noodles, stove up boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and cans of tuna, chicken, and granola bars.

The Hungry Kids Project has two alternating menus for its student clients, and it supplies photo lists of the individual-size items suitable to their student clients, be it a kindergartener or a high school student. Beyond the non-perishable, easily-prepared meals and snacks, the project offers children fresh fruit and cheese snacks.

For the emergency pantry, people can donate other less specific, non-perishable items, some of them in bulk such as vegetable oil or bags of beans and pasta.

In the six years that Chino Valley has participated in the Hungry Kids Project – each school district in the quad city area operates its own such food project for students who are eligible for free and reduced breakfast and lunches during the school year — Spencer said the need for this weekend food has climbed. Last year, Chino Valley’s Hungry Kids Project served 245 students a week, filling 8,700 bags of food that reflected 62,900 meals. This year, the number enrolled is 293, he said.

Hungry Kids Project just this year became eligible to participate in the state’s dollar-for-dollar tax credit program. Individuals can donate as much as $400 for a matched return and couples can donate up to $800.

“Kids should not be punished for their parents’ circumstances,” Spencer said.

He said he knows off one student last year at the high school who was taking college-credit courses but lived in a family struggling to make ends meet. This project enabled him to have a steady food source on the weekends so he could have the energy to do his schoolwork and play sports.

“Our job is simply to feed these kids,” he said.

Chino Valley High Senior Samson Estala donated a morning of his fall break to the effort because “there are definitely a lot of people who need this food.”

Retired trucker and project volunteer Fred Luedeman said he was amazed to learn how many people struggle to cover their family’s food expenses.

“I had no idea there was so much need in Chino,” Luedeman said.

Fellow volunteer Lynn Garner said she is awed by Chino Valley’s generosity.

“If there are 200 kids in our community who need this help, I need to help,” Garner concluded.

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.