Food bank gets paid help to make rounds - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Food bank gets paid help to make rounds

Eleven businesses donating day-olds; truck driver makes the regular run

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Posted: Tuesday, July 28, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:36 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

It takes a lot of work and people to feed more than 820 families in Marana each month.

That work starts early on a Thursday morning for Gabe Contreras, now working full-time for the Marana Food Bank.

Overnight rain cooled off the desert, and the rising sun has some clouds still to burn through before beating on the Marana Food Bank's delivery truck.

Across Northwest Tucson, Contreras drives the truck from Fry's to Starbucks to Safeway, picking up their day-old breads, meats and deli foods.

Three days out of the week, he travels to seven locations, and twice a week he stops by five spots.

"Sometimes we get boxes and boxes of food," Contreras said. "And sometimes we just get one box."

Contreras, who has more than 35 years experience working in and around warehouses, works efficiently and effectively picking up the goods from each location — 198 pounds of food from Fry's, 252 pounds from Wal-Mart, 82 pounds from Bashas.

As he leaves Bashas, the man working the produce department warns Contreras "we will have a big load of produce for you tomorrow."

When Contreras isn't picking up produce, he's hauling breads, pastries, deli meats, sodas, canned goods and products from the meat department. Each day, Contreras takes the food from the stores to the food bank in Marana, where it is handed out and picked up by anywhere from 35 to 50 people a day representing nearly 2,800 individuals across 821 families.

Cecilia Muñoz, manager at the Marana Community Food Bank, sees the traffic coming through her door on a regular basis.

"I wouldn't doubt it if we hit 1,000 families (each month) by this time next year," Muñoz said.

With that number of people utilizing the food bank in Marana, the Tucson Community Food Bank, which oversees the Marana operation, answered Muñoz's request to fill two full-time positions and one part-time position. That's how Contreras got the job as the truck driver. The other full-time employee is a warehouse assistant and the part-time employee helps at the front desk along with managing the volunteers behind the scenes.

"I love doing this job," Contreras said during his route around town. "I am helping the community."

Muñoz can't do all the work that needs to be done with just a few employees.

"Even though we have employees now, we still need volunteers," Muñoz said. "So much happens here on a regular basis that there is no way just employees can take care of it."

Since Muñoz took over the Marana Community Food Bank, she has lined up surrounding businesses to donate their day-old food, increasing her participants from three to eleven while raising community awareness of the food bank's needs. Participants are the Fry's grocery stores at Oracle and First, Lambert Lane and La Cañada, Tangerine and Thornydale, Ina and Thornydale and Cortaro and Silverbell, Safeway at Silverbell and Twin Peaks, Wal-Mart stores at Oracle and Magee, Cortero and I-10 and the one within the Oro Valley Marketplace, Bashas at Tangerine and Dove Mountain, and the Starbucks at Oracle and First.

"We are getting a sense of stability here now," Muñoz said. "The Marana community is always providing for us with food drives and monetary donations."

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