Barbara and I were deeply saddened when we read that Sandy Berry’s dream child “the Pantry” was closing. Although we have not been involved in how this has come to pass, we reflected how Flagstaff Family Food Center and St Mary’s Food Bank forced the same fate on us and the People’s Pantry nearly seven years ago. There was and is an amazing amount of food donated everyday by restaurants, wholesalers, and supermarkets. Much of it is wasted and lost because of poor management and power struggles. A very good example, which led to the People Pantry closing: when the Sunshine Rescue Mission offered our People’s Pantry the food they collected at some of those sites but could not use before it went bad, they were told that if they continued to help us they would lose the right to pick up that food. It was better to throw that food out then to let a non-team player put it to use feeding the hungry.

Make no mistake about this, there is plenty of food, between those daily pickups, Feeding America through St Mary’s delivery from even bigger donors, and the generosity of the Flagstaff to community to feed those that need help. And allowing people to choose the food they need is the most respectful, humane, and effective way to provide that help. Not forcing people to take items they don’t want and won’t use saves food from being wasted and allows those who need help a measure a of dignity. When you realize that the prepacked food box is how we dealt with hunger more than 70 years ago, it’s not hard to imagine there probably is a better way. And Sandys way is that better way. Whether or not the Family Food Center had anything to do with “The Pantry” closing it is time they stand up to the powers that be and start treating Flagstaff’s hungry with the respect to allow them to select the food they need. And before they try to tell us “it’s just too labor intensive” remind them that both Sandy’s and our Pantries were 100% volunteer for a total of over seven years. Labor costs were never the problem, access to the food was. And before they try to tell us “it’s just too labor intensive”, remind them that both Sandy’s and our Pantries were 100% volunteer for a total of over seven years. Labor costs were never the problem, access to the food was.

Feeding America started a little more than 100 miles from The Pantry, in 1979, the brain child of John Van Hengel as St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix Az. Because of his creative thinking and hard work it flourished and in 2001 merged with Foodchain which soon became the preeminent foodbank in the nation. Since then they changed their name to Feeding America and now control more than 90% of all food recovery in the country. They created a system of collection and distribution that was second to none. But although the technology has made major strides in the process, the interface in dealing with those they serve has changed very little. The creative thinking, at least with regard to those they serve has disappeared. Its still the same old prepackaged food box even though the world has changed by leaps and bounds. Now funded largely by Federal programs like TEFAP and SNP as well as USDA grants, executives earn hundreds of thousands of dollars, Feeding America seems too big to change or challenge.

Changing how this system works is not for the faint of heart. Sandy, as a volunteer, had an idea that bucked and is still bucking a system that has a monopoly and fights any change. She made it work for six plus years by sheer will, determination and a lot of her own resources. Flagstaff owes her a tip of their cap for the battle she fought for those who don’t have many real champions.