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10:18 AM Wed, Nov. 14th

Food drive, donations turn things around for food bank

PRESCOTT VALLEY — In the middle of the night, in the chill of December, as a fire lights their faces, people can't help but reminisce.

And Thursday night, Lew Rees and Gary Hershey couldn't help but remember back four years, when the "Burning Desire to Feed the Hungry" food drive began.

Hershey, who has since moved from the area, returned Thursday for the cause — to feed the hungry at the holidays, and make sure the food bank stays stocked even after people pack away their holiday goodwill.

Rees and Hershey gathered in less-primitive surroundings Thursday compared to the inaugural year – the parking lot of the Prescott Valley Albertson's Food and Drug Store, around a propane "campfire," surrounded by RVs, and recalled the first year.

In 1997, a week before Christmas, Rees, Hershey and Prescott Valley Tribune Managing Editor Heidi Dahms camped in the Mountain Valley Splash parking lot, burning wood and tree branches in a 50-gallon drum.

They went on the air two or three times an hour, encouraging local residents to come down and bring food. They covered the bottom of a semi-trailer that year.

While today's drive is more comfortable, the hosts still fast for the 24 hours, and stay up and talk to visitors around the clock. The Albertson's location is more visible, and convenient. If people didn't bring anything, they can shop on site.

And the result is quite different, too. Instead of a light load, the trailer is piled high.

Albertson's store director, Annetta Gonzales, estimated that the food collected would have cost the food bank $25,000 to buy.

The trailer held about 60 turkeys, some hams, and a promise. Albertson's ran out of turkeys, so people left the cash. Another 60 turkeys will stock the food bank in a few days, as soon as a truck arrives.

Rees, KKLD's Mike Jaworski and Jackie Bessler, and Mike Mares and others from Arizona State Savings and Credit Union worked well after the drive ended, piling in late donations.

And Friday afternoon, Ed Lepordo of McWhite's North American and his staff came to haul the trailer to Yavapai Food Bank.

"It's a lot of food," Rees said, "but it's never enough. Hunger is a non-perishable."

Rees said some folks are taking their donations to the food bank directly. Others have sent cash. Others contributed to different drives and holiday charity events.

"We don't want to be the only game in town," he said. "We just want to be a contributor. As long as hungry people are fed, we don't care where people contribute."

Larry Potter, director of the Yavapai Food Bank, was directing traffic at the food bank Friday afternoon, showing volunteers where to put away the cases of vegetables, stuffing, peanut butter, cereal and other food staples.

Potter said the distribution center volunteers planned to work Saturday, take Sunday off, and go at it again Monday, preparing the way for the holiday box distribution on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The community is beginning to come through, Potter said, but they have a long way to go before they can feed about 3,000 needy people a Christmas dinner.

Judy Stewart, Yavapai Food Bank's executive director, said people from the community got behind them when they realized how much need they had.

The mail was 7 inches high Friday morning, and between letters and dropped off checks, the food bank took in $10,000 on Friday alone.

That sounds like a lot of money, but when Stewart tries to spread it between turkeys, other food staples, gifts for the children's Christmas party and more, it's not enough. But God is working on it, she said.

"It's so funny, the way the Lord is orchestrating this," she said. "I know that the Lord was going to do this, but I didn't know how.

"From Tuesday to Friday, this thing has turned around. What can I say? We have an awesome God."

People still wanting to drop off non-perishables — canned and boxed food — can do so at all of the Prescott Newspaper locations: The Daily Courier, Prescott Valley Tribune, Chino Valley Review and the Sun Shopper.

People can take perishables, including turkeys and hams, directly to the food bank, 8400 E. Spouse Drive, Prescott Valley. They also can drop off toys, toiletries for infants to seniors, new socks or T-shirts, and other items that will go to the Christmas shoe box distribution on Dec. 23.

And people who want to help out can conveniently buy an Albertson's or Bashas' certificate at those three tri-city stores, and leave it at the service desk for the Yavapai Food Bank.

A $10 certificate will buy a turkey, a $25 certificate will buy a whole holiday dinner for a family in need.

Stewart said the way the Lord works through people is rewarding, and sometimes, the people who give are only a bit better off than their clients.

"The ones that get to me are the elderly people who come in and write $5 checks, and you know they're giving out of their own need, and they're going to hurt for it," Stewart said.

Information: 775-5255.