COOLIDGE — Cars lined the parking lot outside of Hope International Ministry, 1280 N. Arizona Blvd., while volunteers and members of the National Guard placed numbers on vehicles and loaded distributions on April 16.
The National Guard was on hand to assist in light of the growing demand food pantries like Hope International are seeing during the pandemic. The partnership resulted when the Association of Arizona Food Banks contacted the Coolidge-based food pantry to inquire if it was in need of any volunteers.
According to Pastor Anthony Warren, the head of the Coolidge ministry, the National Guard will be available to provide assistance to the food bank through the end of May if the pantry requires additional assistance.
The assistance comes at a time when it is severely needed by Hope International, as the organization sees a rise in the number of area residents taking advantage of the distributions in light of economic hardships and product shortages created by COVID-19.
Since March, the pantry has seen the number of people seeking nutritional assistance through food boxes grow by nearly 50%. During the first distribution for the month of April, first lady of Hope International Ministry Audri Warren estimates that the pantry — which typically averages about 100 boxes per distribution— gave away nearly 200 boxes.
In light of the additional need that food banks and pantries across Arizona are witnessing amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, United Food Bank requested Hope International consider going from a bi-weekly to a weekly distribution schedule.
Currently, the pantry runs distributions from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on the first and third Thursday of the month. But with only a few volunteers to spare, Warren said she is uncertain the pantry will be able to expand its distribution schedule.
“We only have a few volunteers right now, so I don’t want to stretch them too thin,” she said. Although the pantry only currently holds two distributions for the month, volunteers are needed three weeks in a row to prepare for each distribution.
Warren noted that during this time the pantry is also seeking to help members of the community in “any way that we can.”
“We’re there to help in any way possible,” she said. “We don’t have a lot, but we just want people to know that we’re here to help as much as we possibly can. Together, we’re all going to get through this.”