MARICOPA — After several successful drives in recent weeks, the F.O.R. Maricopa food bank is hoping to keep the momentum going into the summer, but they need some help.

Wendy Webb, food bank owner, said she appreciates the local schools investing in their community and the needs of those around them.

Santa Rosa Elementary School honor students had a food drive for the bank in April. The entire school was excited about it and brought in 3,429 pounds of food.

"This is quite impressive and we are so blessed by their efforts," she stated.

All last month, the Maricopa Library and Cultural Center had a Food for Fines program — one non-perishable food item takes $1 off a person's fines — that generated 191 pounds of food for them.

She encourages local businesses to use teamwork to help non-profits.

Earlier this year, one local business, JATCO-USA, held a drive for the food bank "out of the blue." They came to their facility on one of the busiest days and were invited to come back and volunteer.

This group heard about the food bank by browsing through local volunteering opportunities in Maricopa. This company emphasizes working in the community through volunteering and donation.

JATCO-USA is the Japanese Automatic Transmission Company. They work out of the Nissan American Test Center just outside of Maricopa.

They're with the Nissan powertrain division doing research and development for Nissan vehicles.

Jacob Swagerty, test engineer, and his team sorted through and counted an "overwhelming amount of food." He feels it's where they helped and enjoyed the most.

"Creating a sense of community is very important," he said. "The best way to do this is by personally involving yourself and not just acknowledging issues."

On May 2, 6-8 men from the company volunteered for around four hours, sorting the food and counting inventory for the next food order and in preparation for the upcoming holidays. This also helped them prepare for how much they'll need for the rest of the year.

"We can't thank them enough for all their efforts," Webb stated. "Groups like this are hard to find and greatly appreciated, especially during the warmer months and with snowbirds leaving for the season."

They were "very generous and nice to work with." They asked about items the food bank needed and tried to get those donations for them.

The food bank is in need of certain items more than others, one of these items being peanut butter. It's something they need all year round. It's also something that doesn't get donated very much.

"We know it means a lot to our families and the children of our families, so we're really hopefully that we can get more behind it," Webb said.

Right now, they're needing tomato products and fruit along with cereal. Items other than human food are pet food and toiletries. 

"We get requests for those every day," she said. "Those are things people don't think about at a food bank, but (we) do hand those items out when we get them. People are very happy to have those."

JATCO-USA had a big food drive. Now, they've also had the experience of how it's managed, counted and put away.

"That was fun for us to be able to kind of show the full spectrum of what happens in the life of a food bank," Webb said.

F.O.R. is currently looking for more volunteers at the food bank. School is out plus the snow birds are leaving, which leaves a shortage.

Webb feels COVID-19 is at a "totally different place" and people are feeling comfortable doing more things.

"We're really looking forward to connecting to our community," she said.

They have a referral program with an incentive for those who would like to help out. If a volunteer brings a friend to help, both would receive a small gift card.

If they help at least five times, they'll both receive a larger gift card.

"(We're) just trying to think of creative ways to make it fun to go help out some place and feel like it does matter to somebody that you showed up and that you came to help," Webb said.

These gift cards are to restaurants around Maricopa along with Fry's. They really believe in "reinvesting in our own community."

So far, they have three honors students from the local high school helping out. They're hoping to make volunteering more fun for everyone.

Last year, there were about four or five people trying to keep the food bank operating on the days they're handing out food. It was chaotic and really challenging. 

Since COVID-19 seems to have calmed down, they've had more volunteers help out. It's not as physically draining on everyone when there's more helping at the food bank. 

They encourage parents to bring their kids. If they're over 12 years old, they can come by themself. If they're under 12, they need a parent with them to volunteer to keep them safe and help them stay focused and busy.

Those who would like to volunteer can contact them via email, text or call at 520-251-0226. They send education pieces to potential volunteers and a one page form to fill out and give back to the food bank.

Once they come into the food bank, they'll be assigned a buddy for the day, so they know what to do and can figure out the process.

Volunteer hours are Mondays from 7-11:30 a.m. and Thursdays from 3-7:30 p.m. Sometimes they need people to fill in on their trucks when they pick up the food from all the different grocery stores.

The food bank also has drop sites around town such as Global Water, Great Western Bank and Maricopa Storage where people pick up items from as well.

They're looking for about 10-15 volunteers every Monday and Thursday. 

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Kimlye Stager covers Maricopa and the surrounding area for PinalCentral, including city, education, business, crime and more. She can be reached at kstager@pinalcentral.com.

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