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Flagstaff nonprofits provide Thanksgiving turkeys amid increased need during pandemic
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Flagstaff nonprofits provide Thanksgiving turkeys amid increased need during pandemic

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Flagstaff nonprofits are seeing people rely on their services in record-setting numbers as their employees respond to both increased need during the coronavirus pandemic and the holiday demand.

The Flagstaff Family Food Center broke its record and served 339 households in one day last week, up from an average of 200 per day. The center relied on the United States National Guard stationed at their Huntington Drive location as they gave out all of their 2,000 turkeys this year to different Flagstaff families in need. The food center normally has about 1,200 turkeys per year.

Carrie Henderson, spokeswoman for the center, said employees spoke with a single mother who was taking care of six children. She said their food box would help them “ration” her food -- which Henderson said meant something about people in need right now.

"People who need food assistance, they’re struggling — living paycheck to paycheck,” Henderson said. “Being able to save a couple hundred dollars a month in groceries is hopefully giving them a little bit of breathing room to make sure they can pay utility bills for the month. If their kid needs to go to a doctor, they can pay that instead of making a choice between paying rent or buying food.”

The Salvation Army has also seen an increased reliance on their food, toy, rent and utility assistance programs, and have delivered $107,000 in assistance this year, according to Jeremy Baker, captain at the Flagstaff Salvation Army. During Thanksgiving, the Salvation Army has given 112 families prized turkeys and a variety of sides, up from 75 last year.

Between the two agencies, people will be taking home turkeys, hams and sides including stuffing, mac and cheese, and green bean casseroles. These are just two of the agencies that are distributing food leading up to the Thanksgiving season.

“We’re really trying to make sure [families] have the stuff they need to make sure they can have that Thanksgiving experience at home,” Baker said.

Both agencies have expanded their delivery services during the pandemic to ensure people can receive their services in the way that’s healthiest for them, a move that can be costly. But regardless of the public health crisis, both nonprofits expect to see people using their services for some time.

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“Even as things start to ‘go back to normal,’ it’s going to take families months, if not a year, to start rebuilding their savings and getting back on their feet after having months of interrupted pay,” Henderson said.

The center hasn’t been able to host its usual two large food drives because of the pandemic through the National Association of Letter Carrier food drive nor the Stuff the Bus food drive. Instead, the center is asking for financial donations during the pandemic to help buy the food they distribute and help cover the cost of delivering it to people in need.

“A one-dollar donation helps provide five meals to people in need,” Henderson said. “A little bit can go a long way.”

As December approaches, the Salvation Army will continue its angel tree program that provides toys to children in need in the community. Children will be able to get toys such as bicycles, skateboards, Legos, dolls and board games.

Baker said 225 kids have signed up for toys from them, and parents are still able to sign people up on their website.

“We give them to parents unwrapped, as an opportunity to involve them in the children’s holiday by wrapping them,” Baker said.

Henderson said there isn't a shortage of food in this country, and the center just wants to help get that excess to people in need.

“We honestly wish we could just do more,” Henderson said. “We’re just trying to make sure our neighbors don’t go hungry and can make it through these difficult times.”

Baker said they're happy to help people find a reason to smile, especially this year.

“We see it, and hear it in their stories. People are so thankful just to be able to give their family a little bit of normalcy and celebration," Baker said.

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