As holidays approach, food banks step up efforts for those in need

A recent event run by Maricopa Pantry, The Thanksgiving Melting Potluck. [Brian Petersheim Jr.]

Food might be the primary focus of both Maricopa Pantry and F.O.R. Maricopa, but both organizations provide much more to the community and its people in need.

Their founders bring the same passion to the missions they began decades ago.

“I never had any thought it would become this big,” said Maricopa Pantry CEO Jim Shoaf, who with his wife Alice started providing food out of their backyard in 2004.

Maricopa Pantry was formed in 2015.

“We just kept seeing the need and tried to fill it,” Shoaf said.

Wendy Webb was among the founders of F.O.R. Maricopa in 2007 and is its executive director. Through challenges and evolutions, she said, “We want to invest in our kids. It’s where we have a chance to make a difference.”

Both groups do just that, serving nearly a combined 2,000 families a week. The heartbeats of each organization are those who tirelessly, and without accolades, volunteer to get food onto the tables of those who need it.

Maricopa Pantry
The Maricopa Pantry Saturday morning food banks are a model of efficiency. As cars enter in three lanes and wind around the extended Mountain View Community Church parking lot off West Papago Road, southwest of the city, teams of volunteers —as many as 60 in a week —are filling boxes of food in an assembly line.

The number of boxes needed for a particular vehicle is radioed to the two pickup spots. People often pick up food for other family members or neighbors, with no questions asked, Shoaf explained. Drivers are on their way quickly with a much-needed supply of fresh food items.

With some home deliveries and a smaller Monday-morning operation, the Maricopa Pantry serves as many as 1,700 families a week.

“They love us, and we love them,” Shoaf said. “We know most of the people. A family might come up that lost a son or is just trying to make ends meet. We try to take that devastating moment and maybe lift them up a little bit.”

Shoaf and his volunteer team take delivery of more than two semi-trucks of food each week. In 2021, that totaled more than 3 million pounds of food. Sources include St. Mary’s and Midwest food banks, local farmers, private individuals and businesses.

“I’ll deal with anybody who can get me food,” Shoaf said.

He also purchases products to augment donations.

In early November, he was working to buy 1,500 hams.

“The holidays are special,” he said. “Around that time is when we need the money.”

Cash donations go toward gifts, shoes, clothes and other items that are distributed to those in the Saturday-morning food lines.

A potluck Thanksgiving dinner at Copper Sky in 2021 fed more than 300 people. For the last several years, Shoaf has played Santa Claus, including a “Sensory Santa” for children with autism. He said he is booked solid for six weeks in November and December this year.

Tiana Birkeland and colleagues from the Strong House of Healing bring a vanload of eager volunteers to assist each Saturday.

“We were coming out to get food boxes (for our treatment homes),” Birkeland said, “but everyone saw what was taking place and they wanted to volunteer. It is a great way to meet people and a good chance to get involved in the community.”

For Shoaf, this just presents another opportunity to assist those in need.
“I’ve always helped people my whole life,” he said.

Identifying one of the Strong House volunteers, Shoaf added, “If I can help one young man like that get back on the straight and narrow, this is all worth it.”

F.O.R. Maricopa
The “F” in its title is for “Food,” which comes in Monday morning and Thursday afternoon distributions that serve 150 to 170 families a day.

F.O.R. Maricopa had a number of homes during its 15 years before landing at the Blue Business Building on North Maricopa Road three years ago. That allowed a move to the drive-through concept that became mandatory during COVID.

Food that is near its expiration date is picked up from local stores six days a week. Drop sites around the city, food drives, special fundraising days at local businesses and a variety of grants provide the food and money needed.

During the holidays, F.O.R. includes extra food boxes with turkeys, gifts for children and stocking stuffers. A new, year-round program providing bicycles for young people recently was implemented.

Ways you can help

  • Volunteer
  • Donate food
  • Donate money (Arizona tax credit allowable)
  • Conduct a food drive
  • Contribute proceeds from a garage sale

Maricopa Pantry
50881 W. Papago Road
Food distribution: 8-11 a.m. Saturdays and Mondays

F.O.R. Maricopa
19428 N. Maricopa Road
Food distribution: 8:30-11:30 a.m. Mondays and 4:30-7:30 p.m. Thursdays


This content was first published in the December edition of InMaricopa magazine.