THE APPLE BASKET
Behind the Curtain
Maybe we don’t notice or maybe won’t notice, probably a little of both. We are a proud country built on bootstrap pulling and rags to riches success stories that color our perception of what poor people “should” be doing. They “should” be just like me. Come on, quit complaining, get a job, work harder, get an education, manage your money better.
There is always a little bit of truth in everything we all shoulda, woulda, coulda done with our lives, but the fact is that in the darkness behind all the prosperity numbers and waves of billionaires paraded across the economic stage to tout the American Dream, we perhaps “should” be embarrassed that the stats still shout that one in every six children in our country remains mired in an impoverished life. These are our neighbors, right here in our own communities.
Almost 220,000 kids in Arizona struggle for the basics, looking up from below the poverty mark, even though the overwhelming majority of families dealing with poverty are working families. Among the 14,000 people SFB-CRC serves, a third are minors in families at or only slightly above the poverty level, and half of them, nearly 2500 children, live beneath it.
The minimum wage of less than $14 per hour still leaves a family of four’s annual income 3,000 dollars short of the federal poverty line. Even if both parents work at that kind of wage and can earn closer to $55,000, licensed child care costs can easily drain nearly half that income, dropping them below the line anyway. Steadily increasing daily expenses for transportation, energy, food, housing, and all the other costs incurred in raising a family only make it more and more difficult to get ahead, let alone just make a living.
Interestingly, 198,000 households in Arizona are considered “kinship households.” Grandparents or other relatives are raising the children. The heads of these households are usually much older folks not working, often relying only on social security.
Many families in rural areas with limited services face hardships. Sopori Elementary in Amado, for example, unfortunately finds 78 percent of its students eligible for free and reduced price lunches. Free lunch programs mean those families live under 130 per cent of the poverty level. Summit View Elementary numbers rise to 88 percent of the student population.
Poor kids can transform into grownups without hope, significantly less likely to achieve academic success and secure employment, facing a myriad of social, health, and economic pitfalls, and much more likely to continue the cycle of poverty into their adult lives. So, what can one do? Finger pointing gets credit for doing nothing and critics of directing tax dollars toward the problem will always argue we are wasting precious resources that could be used for more important things. People should handle their own problems, right?
Again, though, the facts are clear. The Child Tax Credit in 2021 cut child poverty in half and when taken away reversed the numbers right back to where they were. Housing assistance programs, SNAP benefits, WIC, TANF, and school lunch programs all contributed to the war effort against child poverty. Access to these and other programs directed toward families with children can mean they are more likely to succeed in school, enjoy better health, and have the chance to lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty.
SFB-CRC continues to do its part locally in extending a helping hand with food assistance, but more importantly, its mission includes adding and improving programs that provide adults as well as young people unique opportunities to gain skills and confidence that can offer them a glimpse of hope to escape that cycle.
What greater gift can we give as we comfortably live in front of the curtain than to look behind it once in a while and ask…what can I do to help?
Project Azul Visits Arivaca
SFB-CRC and its Project Azul mobile unit were on hand at Celebrate Arivaca Day on October 7, all part of our effort to reach out to rural communities. This resource fair included Pima County One-Stop, Amado Youth Center, United Community Health Center, and Disabled American Veterans. New partnerships with the University of Arizona Mobile Health Team provided free on-site health screenings and Pinnacle Prevention Works supports increased access to locally grown food at farmer’s markets.
We were also there to maintain our steadfast support of Arivaca Human Resource as they continue to grow and to celebrate their opening of the Village Thrift Shop and dedication of a new park on Main Street-Friendship Plaza.
“Having Project Azul attend our Celebrate Arivaca was wonderful,” said Arivaca Human Resources Executive Director Suzanne Kammerman. “The commitment, hard work and dedication required to bring these resources to our rural community are both humbling and extremely beneficial. We are honored to take part in and be a destination for this wonderful project that unquestionably promises to positively affect the lives of those living in rural communities throughout Southern Arizona.”
Project Azul will be making visits to Arivaca again as follows: October 19 and 26, November 2, 9, 16, and 30, and December 7 and 14, all from 10 to 2 pm.
SFB-CRC recently welcomed four student interns from San Miguel, a private Catholic high school in Tucson that serves racially and ethnically diverse students. San Miguel is committed to emphasizing academic and job skills, but just as important, they foster social responsibility and contributing to your community. Most of these young people come from lower income families and many will be the first person in the family to attend college. A hundred percent of San Miguel graduates last year went on to college.
There are 90 organizations participating with San Miguel in the work/study program. SFB-CRC interns are bilingual so they can interact easily and can help with translation and interpretation. They have been assisting with data entry and in the warehouse, preparing class materials, growing hydroponic vegetables, greeting food bank visitors, and many other tasks. Their work gives them the chance to earn money for their tuition.
Two of our generous donors agreed to match a $13,000 funding goal for the kids’ tuition, and SFB-CRC is pleased to announce that our donors went out of their way as they always do to successfully meet that funding goal and award these students $26,000.
The program is a great opportunity for young people to learn practical skills, be exposed to a work environment and also help organizations that are providing essential services to the community. Those who contributed to helping these interns gain this experience can be proud that the gift they provided will contribute to a better tomorrow as the next generation leaves its positive footprints on their communities.
Donors Step Up for Interns
SFB-CRC’s brand-new Family Resource Center (FRC) was ardently unveiled at a September 28 early evening open house, welcoming families with children up to age five. Imagine 25 little people bursting with energy running from one activity to another, all part of our effort to help build strong bonds between parents and their small children.
Thanks to support from the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona and funding organization First Things First, SFB-CRC plus two other FRC’s at Sunnyside Unified School District and Altar Valley Elementary School District, are offering interactive activities, special events for the families of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, as well as parenting workshops.
“The support from Monica Brinkerhoff, Associate Vice President of Early Childhood Education, and Lela Messick, Senior Director for Family Resource Centers, and her colleagues at United Way has been extraordinary,” noted SFB-CRC Board President Penny Pestle.
SFB-CRC’s partners in this endeavor, the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Easter Seals Blake Foundation, Parent Aid, Casa de Los Niños, and Make Way for Books, provide a wealth of experience with early childhood, and they all attended the kickoff. One of them is providing a daily program Monday through Friday, as well as one evening a week and one Saturday a month. Several are in Spanish and are expected to grow in future months.
SFB-CRC has always maintained a commitment to strengthening families, so the new FRC fits perfectly within that mission.
“This approach to working with families of young children,” said SFB-CRC’s new FRC Coordinator Mia Cruz, “will make a significant difference in the paths their lives take.”
Food Drive Hero
SFB-CRC has many champions. We have tireless staff, volunteers, and leaders on the job who never give up until goals are reached.
But, we have champions out in the community working for us, too. Of course, our many donors and partners are critical, but one special hero is our Rancho Sahuarita unofficial “friendly food competition coordinator.”
Although Chrissi Gomez is kept pretty busy supporting Solar Mastermind, her husband PJ’s company, she also volunteers with special needs adults and children and rescue animals. In addition, she feels she has been called to help feed the hungry, especially when she discovered our donations always dwindle during the summer months. First recruited by fellow Rancho Sahuarita resident Lora Nastase, she has taken over the Neighbor2Neighbor food donation program that benefits SFB-CRC.
She put a special twist on it. An instigator of “friendly food competitions,” Chrissi organized a fierce battle between the Green Valley Fire Department and the Town of Sahuarita Police Department that produced a thousand pounds of food. GV Chief Wunder threw down their fiery first response challenge, declaring they would win, and they did. She also organized competition between two salons and two barbers (who’s going to get clipped in that one?), as well as between United Community Health Center and Northwest Hospital, a pretty healthy tussle with current scans showing UCHC just a heartbeat ahead.
Residents like Chrissi Gomez are special people who find creative ways to give back to their community, and SFB-CRC and its visitors certainly reap the benefits of their generosity.
Our Culinary Queen
Weezie Bryson was looking to renew a sense of community for herself, so one day last spring she walked in and asked us if there was a spot for somebody with some cooking experience. It took five minutes to decide we had just landed an amazing new volunteer.
By the first of July we brought her on board to oversee the operations of the SFB-CRC kitchen, and under her leadership we have offered classes for kids such as “Messin’ in the Kitchen,” usually during vacations, distribution, Meals2Go, and catering. SFB-CRC has expanded its culinary programs under her wing, with Karen Martin and Nancy Steele providing assistance. She says it’s the most supportive team she has ever worked with in her experience as a chef and running a commercial kitchen. She’s also certified as a ServSafe manager.
Weezie previously volunteered for a non-profit restaurant helping people who had done community service or were experiencing barriers to employment, and then quickly became their head chef and kitchen manager. She has cooked throughout her life, and she’s so passionate about it because of the joy it brings to others. “I love feeding people,” she said. “I want to help everybody.”
She certainly is a great asset in our commitment to feed the hungry, and to pass along her passion to others who want to pursue culinary employment opportunities. We’re pretty lucky she walked in that day.