St. Mary’s Food Bank is set to deliver 600 food boxes to Grand Canyon National Park today and again on Friday as the federal shutdown strands thousands of employees inside the park without work and pay. 

“It’s had a devastating impact up there right away,” said Jerry Brown, a spokesperson for St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix. “They count on that paycheck to get them through the week, so missing out on even one has a big impact.”

An estimated 2,200 people are still inside the park, including 1,800 concessionaire employees.

“We’re trying to help them as much as we can, but our revenue is struggling too,” said Scott Gold, regional vice president of Forever Resorts, which holds the concessionaire contract at the North Rim. “We’re having to tell them we don’t know how long this thing will last. 

One worker went to the company for help after he found himself without the resources to leave and find other work. The North Rim wasn’t scheduled to close for the season for two more weeks. 

“He said ‘I don’t know what to do. I have less than $100. I was relying on my last week’s pay to get out of here,’” Gold said of the worker. 

Xanterra, the park’s largest contractor, continues to feed its employees three meals a day, but only provides one meal per day to family members of employees. Many other employees who live inside the National Park don’t receive food from their employers. 

‘A TREMENDOUS NEED’

The Rev. Patrick Dotson is pastor at the Grand Canyon Community Church inside the national park. He says that historically, the park pastor will run a small food bank from his garage. It generally serves about six to 12 workers and park visitors at a time who find themselves in a crisis. 

Last week, he started to see an increased need from employees who had missed a paycheck. As he’d leave out food boxes, the supplies would quickly disappear.

“It’s designed for emergencies. It’s not designed for ongoing care,” Dotson said.

“As soon as I put things out they are gone that day — tables of food,” he said. “There’s a tremendous need within the park.”

Dotson believes that the need will only become more desperate if the government shutdown continues and workers become more dependent. 

St. Mary’s has stepped up to fill the initial need for food boxes today and Friday, and it plans to follow through next week with more support as needed, but the nonprofit is running low on supplies itself, according to Brown. 

LODGING FEES WAIVED

Gold pointed out that concessionaire employees are usually less well-paid than employees for the Park Service.

“In a national park you have a huge amount of minimum wage workers living paycheck-to-paycheck.”

Gold says that Forever Resorts continues to feed its employees and has waived the small lodging fee charged to employees, but it can’t afford to continue to pay employees when it has no revenue. Many of the concessionaire employees at the North Rim have already left, while others are stranded with nowhere to go. 

Gold says that he doesn’t blame the Park Service because he knows the directives are coming from higher up. But the decisions have frustrated many in the industry, including Gold. His company was instructed not to feed national park visitors last week after they were given eviction notices and told they had 48 hours to find other accommodations.

LOSING $250,000 A DAY

Forever Resorts, which operates private resorts and facilities in national parks and federal lands across the country, announced on Monday that it is losing $250,000 every day of the shutdown. That amounts to about half of the company’s daily sales.

The downturn comes on the heels of what had been an otherwise solid year that had the company finally turning the corner after the end of the recession. 

Xanterra estimates it is losing $1 million a day. The Grand Canyon’s largest concessionaire laid off 800 employees nationwide on Monday. 

Forever Resorts estimates that many of its remaining employees will leave the North Rim in the coming days and accommodations will likely not reopen on that side of the Canyon this year.

CONCESSIONAIRES LOBBY CONGRESS 

Concessionaires at other national parks are experiencing the same kinds of losses. 

A memo sent to Congress by the National Parks Hospitality Association and signed by a wide selection of park advocates and private business interests lobbied for legislators to end the gridlock and reopen the parks. 

“This shutdown victimizes the American people and the businesses helping our economy to grow,” the memo said. “It needs to be ended swiftly and a lesson learned. The inability to resolve issues in Washington is imposing pain on the rest of the nation. That inability needs to end — now.”

Eric Betz can be reached at 556-2250 or ebetz@azdailysun.com.

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