Eastern Arizona Courier Article by Brooke Curley
Vance Bryce’s heart just about broke over spring break. He and some co-workers found an 8-year-old boy eating out of a trash can at a local park.
Bryce, executive director of the Graham County Chamber of Commerce, shared his story Wednesday at a Gila Valley Food Coalition meeting. Coincidentally enough, the meeting was called to discuss the results of a food survey conducted late last year by Local First Arizona and Northern Arizona University.
Even if they hadn’t encountered the boy, the data collected from just under 300 people proved people in Graham and Greenlee counties are experiencing hunger issues.
According to the survey participants in Graham and Greenlee counties, they go an average of four days without food each month and skip meals four days each month. The survey also found that 40% of the people who took the survey sometimes ran out of food before receiving money to buy more each month.
As for the boy, because it was spring break for the school, there were no free meals available through Safford Unified School District. Although the chamber employees saw to his needs and those of his mother, Bryce felt they hadn’t done enough.
“This issue of hunger in the community is staring at us in the face. It’s right on our doorstep. These are our hungry neighbors,” he said.
Food producers, farmers, entrepreneurs and other members of the coalition, including representatives of the Graham County Health Department and Eastern Arizona College, discussed what barriers and assets currently exist in the two counties and the importance of finding ways to address food insecurity.
Liza Noland, rural programs’ director for Local First Arizona, said the coalition will now create work groups to work on a variety of projects. One project may include finding funding for a community kitchen.
“What I heard very loudly is that the community needs a community kitchen,” she said. “It’s challenging. Finding the space, funding and time. There’s been an identified interest and there seems to be a need for community education and cooking classes.”
Bryce agreed there is a need for a community kitchen, which would serve as a storage area, a larger cooking area for baking businesses and a space where the community could be taught how to prepare food.
As for the survey, Noland said the results may be surprising to some.
“The takeaway is that people tend to think that food access and hunger are issues for the unemployed. The majority of those who were food insecure had jobs,” she said. “There is a food access need, and there is value in taking a hard look at the numbers.”