A Brief History of the GC Food Pantry
In March 2017 Chief Matt Vandzura and Mike Scott met to discuss food insecurity in the Grand Canyon Village. The Chief explained the need for a Pantry: at that time 50% of GUSD students were eligible for subsidized lunch. That summer the GC Community Church sponsored a free lunch program at the GC Recreation Center on Mondays and Thursdays during June and July. During the last two weeks of July we partnered with the St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance to serve Kids Cafe lunches Monday through Friday.
In the summer of 2018 the group that became the Food Pantry served free lunches five days a week at Kaibab Learning Center, the Rec. Center and the Tusayan Sport Complex. Each of these groups supported the effort by training their staffs to meet the AZ Department of Economic Security and Federal Department of Agriculture requirements, along with storing the food in the freezers and refrigerators that St. Mary’s provided. The program won the Regional Summer Sunshine Award for reaching Rural, Tribal and /or Under-served Communities.
In December 2018 we formed the Grand Canyon Emergency Food Pantry working with St. Mary’s to provide food during the lapse in appropriations by the Federal Government. Once again St. Mary’s was the backbone of the operation providing several tons of food. The National Park Service donated warehouse space and detailed workers to deliver the stored food to the Recreation Center, our temporary Pantry. Xanterra loaned freezers and refrigerators along with donating over 1,000 pounds of chicken. During the seven weeks of the lapse we provided food to residents and workers. The Emergency Pantry distributed over 29,000 pounds of food, much of it donated by other food banks and churches in Coconino and Mohave Counties.
We offered three communal ‘soup & talk’ meals that the Park Service used as a vehicle to communicate with Park employees. Our Public Heath officer, Don Hoeschele, checked us for food safety. The School provided soup for one meal, IMAX for the second, and the Squire Inn for the third. The Recreation Center provided the space and local volunteers served the meals.
The need caused by this lapse in appropriations convinced us that we should become a permanent Food Pantry.
In January 2019 the Emergency Pantry formed an Arizona not-for-profit corporation and filed for 501(c)(3) tax status, which was granted later in the year. We filed to be an Arizona Qualifying Charitable Organization, which was granted in December. A Board of Directors, with its membership draw from various stakeholders in the community, held its first meeting in February 2019. Also in February Chief Vandzura offered the old jail and three storage sheds for our use. We had also looked closely at the Fred Harvey gas station on Center Rd, but the build-out costs of close to $500,000 to bring it up to historical preservation standards seemed excessive for our needs.
The Board consists of representatives of major stakeholders in the Community: Xanterra Corporation, Delaware North, Paul Revere Transportation, Northern Arizona Healthcare, Coconino County, the GC Conservancy, public representatives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and ex-officio non voting NPS representation. Membership has fluctuated widely but continues to represent a cross section of the community.
The Grand Canyon Village is somewhat unique. Comprising about 3,200 people in summer and 2,500 January through March, it is located within the Grand Canyon National Park. It has a school district, bank, grocery store, churches, and clinic along with the hotels, restaurants, and amenities to serve visitors. All the community members live in rental properties, trailers, RV’s or dormitories: the level of your job determines the size of your rental or the space where you can hook up your RV. The census bureau estimates the poverty rate in the Village at 12.4%, but private firms place that number closer to 28%. About half of the school population is eligible for free or reduced price lunches. The village is at least 70 miles from city services like supermarkets and department stores: one in four residents do not have an automobile.
Returning to the story of the Pantry, we received our Special Use Permit from the Park Service in June 2019 which allowed us to operate. The Pantry is a totally volunteer organization; we have no paid employees. All the donations we receive either supplement our food requirements or are used to complete the conversion of our space into the Pantry. We are a ‘partner’ Agency of St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance so our food supply is secure. St. Mary’s also offers us training and conducts a compliance audit annually to ensure we are operating in a ‘food safe’ manner. We currently ‘rescue’ food from Delaware North’s General Store and the Texaco Mini Mart in Tusayan. We receive donations from individuals and corporate food drives. Because of the generosity of NPS, which provides buildings and utilities, we have been able to operate without the need for major fund drives. After receiving a Letter Of Authorization from the Park in June 2020 we put in place a walk-in cold storage unit and a walk-in freezer with power to both units. The Park donates the power to operate them. We have received grants to purchase and power these items. We have received other household refrigerators and freezers (4) as gifts or loans.
Plans for 2021
We are rehabilitating an office area behind our Pantry with volunteer labor and grant money just received through the AZ Food Bank Network, making it vermin proof (hardware cloth lining).. This will become our Pantry short term as we remodel the old jail cell into a more usable space. After the work on the Pantry is completed, we will use this as an office. This room will also be available to other agencies as a private meeting space. Longer term we hope to offer small nutrition classes. This grant allowed us to upgrade the old bathroom facilities into an enclosed area with a hot water hand-washing sink.
Our plans for the main Pantry space call for widening the door into the old cell, allowing for wider access in order for us to install a commercial refrigerator and freezer. This will make the ‘shopping area’ handicap compliant. We have received a donation of store shelving which we will add to make our clients’ shopping experience more normal.
Longer term we plan to upgrade the storage area, which is comprised of three historic carriage sheds, by lining it with hardware cloth and installing internal vermin proof doors. This will maintain the historic character of the building while giving us ample space to store ‘staple’ grocery items.