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February 2024

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A New Beginning

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The Marana Food Bank & Community Resource Center (MFB-CRC) officially opened in early February with a ribbon cutting ceremony witnessed by more than 100 community leaders and members. A brief program accompanied food and fellowship in a celebration of our new sister organization. The Marana Food Bank has been operating continuously since 1952. The community recently rallied around the food bank when they learned they will no longer be a branch of the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, and they turned out in force for the ceremony.

SFB-CRC Executive Director Carlos Valles took the reins of operational leadership December
4, 2023. MFB has since been serving 350-400 households per week with just two staff and 40 dedicated volunteers. During this tax season, MFB-CRC will also continue a long-standing program to provide free tax assistance with trained volunteers from Catholic Community Services. “SFB–CRC is very excited,” Carlos said, “at the prospect of collaborating with the Marana Food Bank and their commitment to feeding the hungry.”

Marana Mayor Ed Honea, Town Manager Terry Rozema, Senior Logistics Coordinator Veronica Herrera, and Senior Program Coordinator Luissel Palma offered enthusiastic remarks regarding the ongoing support from the community. Advisory Board Chair Roberta Lopez-Suter, who also serves as SFB-CRC’s Board President, spoke about the remarkable swiftness of the transition and how quickly the interior of the building has been partially renovated.

Advisory Committee member Denise Burns and husband Kevin, long-time supporters of the food bank in Marana, added that “it is heartwarming to witness the outpouring of community, town, and county support, helping to ensure the success of the Marana Food Bank & Community Resource Center. The best is yet to come!


Visionary Takes New Role

Penny Pestle stepped down recently as Board President after an astounding eight-year run. She will continue as a board member and project leader as SFB-CRC moves forward. Surrounded by dedicated people she helped strengthen through her uncanny ability to forge relationships, there can be no doubt that the organization flourished and experienced tremendous growth under her leadership.

“Penny had a vision, not only for the food bank, but for the community,” mused Board Vice-President Curt Keim, as he and Executive Director Carlos Valles sat down together and discussed her accomplishments. “Penny had the knowledge, the personality, and the connections.”

“She knows how to develop relationships and maintain them,” Carlos agreed, “because she wants to build a community.”

A veteran in the world of non-profits and a seasoned observer of board/community and board/staff relationships, Carlos emphasized how unique Penny was in her role as president. She was hands on and masterful at making the connections needed for hiring staff, raising funds, persuading community leaders, developing programs, and all the other things essential in leading SFB-CRC to where it is now. He said she dreams big and then follows up. She builds on the triumphs and lets the defeats roll off.

“She knows how to move on. She’s not a grudge holder,” Carlos noted, recalling some of the battles she faced. Setbacks made her stronger and she never got bogged down with the negatives.

Some boards of non-profits can be more interested in titles and influence, but Carlos described her unique knack for lifting others with no need for personal recognition, and how she always rolled up her sleeves and pitched in with staff and volunteers whenever and wherever there was need. “She is 24/7 on call,” Carlos said. “She’s at every event no matter how small. This is her life and that’s what sets her apart.”

She put together the new Saguaro Skills Center pretty much single-handedly, they said, which included the bureaucratic nightmare of licensing and course work through the state. When CRC lost its director, she stepped in by herself to keep it going strong. “She was putting in ten-hour days,” Curt recalled. “She managed that and made it work.”  

“She maintained the continuity,” Carlos agreed. He said she created an atmosphere that made him feel that he and his staff and volunteers were part of decisions. “I don’t work for the Board, I work with it,” he explained.

Penny started out volunteering at the original food pantry begun by Jackie Smith at The Good Shepherd Church. Jackie envisioned combining food distribution with parenting classes, health/nutrition, financial advising, literacy, and support for entering the workforce. Together they formed a board. As the new president in 2015, Penny started carrying those visions to new heights. She used her corporate management and extensive community development consulting background to work with others to create Better Together, a community-wide collaborative organization that helped to spotlight how she and her colleagues and team members could provide vital services to countless underserved families and individuals in this area. She made connections with elected officials, government agencies, educators, donors, and dozens of other community leaders. “She is a bridge builder,” Curt put it.

“Penny has guided SFB into new territory with the establishment of the Saguaro Skills Center,” Jackie added. “Her dedication in working with clients to enhance their economic status is impressive and she provides a role model for all of us.”

Certainly “it takes a village,” as the saying goes, and Penny is the first to acknowledge all the work from staff, volunteers, colleagues, donors, and community members, but it was a remarkable journey she walked in leading SFB-CRC toward becoming an organization that provides, assists, trains, and gives people hope for a better future.

“My work with SFB-CRC has been the most meaningful of my life,” Penny said. “It has brought me great joy. I have been so fortunate to share with devoted community members, wonderful board and staff, dedicated volunteers, and generous donors our commitment to the mission of meeting immediate needs and providing resources to achieve economic well-being and family stability. Much remains to be done, and I am confident with a community like ours that has wrapped its arms around SFB-CRC, we will continue to build new successes ahead in service to those who need our help.”



Greeter is a Gift

SFB-CRC has served families with children of all ages since our inception in 2009, but we have never had the opportunity to provide intensive programming for families with kids from birth to five years old.

Thanks to a grant opportunity by First Things First’s Pima South Regional Council through United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, with money from a long-term statewide settlement with tobacco companies, we now have the chance to form a Family Resource Center to help parents of young children. Our FRC will be one of three in the region, with other locations at Sunnyside Unified School District and Altar Valley Elementary School District.

The Good Shepherd United Church of Christ is providing the space. The FRC is a long-term program needing two dedicated spaces each day of the week excluding Sundays, as well as flexible use of other rooms and the outdoor courtyard. Although SFB-CRC is independent, the Church incubated the food bank and has always supported our mission, for which we are incredibly grateful.

Activities in both English and Spanish will focus on child and parent or guardian interactions and workshops for families navigating parenting of very young children. Family support resources are also available to families struggling with issues such as child care, health, and employment. U of A Cooperative Extension, Parent Aid, Casa de los Niños, Make Way for Books, and Easter Seals Blake Foundation will work with us so together we can provide nearly 150 offerings to participating families. Stay and Play, as an example, is a chance for parents and their babies to share time together playing—with a resource person to show parents new ways of interacting. The goal is to encourage play that helps babies learn.

Let’s Rock the Longhorn

Larry Worster and his fellow musicians are calling it “turning music into food.” They will play while we eat, drink, and be merry, and maybe even dance a little at the Longhorn Grill March 25, 5-8:30 p.m.

This event is a great way to help SFB-CRC meet the challenge of more clients and fewer food donations and at the same time enjoy a rockin’ spring evening with great food and music. The $100 per person contribution ($70 is tax deductible) includes dinner (with a vegetarian option), a reception, and a concert from renowned local band Silver and Chrome, led by Larry Worster. Larry and his friends have played many concerts to benefit SFB-CRC. Invite friends for a table of eight ($800).

Please respond by March 15, and thanks in advance for your support. Hope to see you there.




Project Azul Reaches Isolated Communities

Project Azul with its mobile service unit brings instruction and tutoring in computer basics plus an upcoming GED program to Arivaca, starting Thursdays in March. Located west of Amado, Arivaca is over an hour from SFB-CRC, so this provides a great benefit to rural residents. The closest gas station is in Green Valley or Rio Rico. Most other resources are hard to access. Ethan McGinley, a 19-year-old computer whiz who moved to Arivaca from Colorado will provide computer instruction, and Zyanya Gutierrez, who also works at SFB-CRC teaching English and GED, will take over the GED class.

About 7,000 people live in Summit, part of unincorporated Pima County, located just a couple of miles south of the Raytheon plant on Nogales Highway. There are no paved roads and little infrastructure, just a small store and a church. Summit View Elementary School is the major institution. Project Azul Coordinator Nathan Watts has worked with the local pastor over the last month to develop connections across the community. Zyanya will be teaching English to Summit residents Mondays and Wednesdays. Project Azul continues to reach out to rural communities to provide essential resources


FRC Thriving

he Family Resource Center opened in October and has already served more than 100 families. There’s a program nearly every day of the week. There is Stay and Play for parents to play with their little ones as it fosters learning through play. FRC also offers Baby Yoga, Baby Signing, Boot Camp for Dad, Cooperative Parenting, and many others. Programs are provided through partners UA Extension, Make Way for Books, Parent Aid, Casa de Los Niños, and Easter Seals Blake Foundation. FRC Coordinator Mia Ruiz welcomes participants, manages logistics, and ensures scheduling to create a valuable experience for young families in our community. Funding for FRC and two others comes to the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona from First Things First, an Arizona agency focused on families and their children up to age five. 

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