COOLIDGE — After a successful pop-up food drive in December, Coolidge once again partnered with Bernard White’s Free Fresh for an impromptu community event on Saturday. While the initial effort delivered 300 food boxes, the sequel delivered a five-fold increase on that amount.

Local volunteers teamed up with Free Fresh to give out 1,500 meals to needy families at Kenilworth Sports Complex, with cars forming a line as early as 7 a.m. to receive meals.

The food drive kicked off a planned six- to eight-week tour of the state, during which Free Fresh will service communities such as Globe and Flagstaff before finishing in the Phoenix area.

White’s enthusiasm was wedded to a strong sense of purpose as he coached volunteers on how to maximize the impact of the event.

“The reason why we’re here is not to throw boxes in trunks,” White said. “Anybody can do that, a monkey can do that. This is about you creating an experience for somebody going through trauma right now.”

Free Fresh Emergency Food Mission, a Chandler-based charity, is primarily a door-to-door distribution service, and White explained food as part of a broader goal to help bring families and communities out of crippling poverty. White stressed the importance of delivering a positive emotional experience for people, to help earn their trust and make a connection.

“Some organizations make you feel like you’re just a number,” White said. “If I’m already in a bad situation, I don’t really feel good if people coming to help me are still objectifying me, making me feel like I need to hurry up and get out of the way.”

In addition to the food boxes, volunteers distributed a sheet with various crisis hotlines.

Event volunteers included officials Mayor Jon Thompson and City Manager Rick Miller, as well as local volunteer groups including the Better Human Coalition and the Calvary Chapel Youth Group, organized by Dan and Julie Leonard.

Youth group member James Duvall said that he hoped events like the food drive could help change the sense of hopelessness he sees sometimes in the city.

“People say Coolidge is ghetto but it’s not,” Duvall said. “I’m not giving up on Coolidge. I’ve been here all my life and even in a small town like this you can meet new people and create bonds.”

As in December, this month’s food drive came together quickly when Free Fresh board member Maria Salcido reached out to Thompson about putting it on.

“Things are happening in our communities right now that people don’t want to talk about,” Salcido said. “We need to start talking about it. People have been laid off, people are trying not to lose their homes. I know we can reach people.”

Both White and Salcido said they hoped that if there was enough demand, they could do the food drives regularly.

“Coolidge is an awesome team and awesome community so we will continue to do this,” White said.


Aaron Dorman is a reporter covering Coolidge and the surrounding area. He can be reached at