Maricopa Pantry was caught in No Man’s Land in the effort to land funds to mitigate the costs of COVID-19 on its operation.
The food bank at Mountain View Community Church, in the unincorporated area off Papago Road, has served more than 70,000 meals during the pandemic. It has long served the residents of Hidden Valley and for the past nine years has helped Maricopa residents with weekly food offerings.
Food banks were one of the targets of the federal CARES Act as it funded nonprofits and small businesses. When CARES Act funds came to Arizona, they become AZCares funds, much of them distributed to cities and counties. To prevent double-dipping in state, county and city funds, applications specified organizations should not apply for the same help from different agencies.
Jim Shoaf, director of the pantry, saw that his organization had two different clientele – those in Hidden Valley and those in the City of Maricopa. And both services had specific needs.
He looked over the government paperwork and saw nothing that prevented him from applying to different agencies for different programs.
“I tried to be as specific as I could,” he said.
He asked Pinal County for $65,000 worth of help. He then applied for $35,000 from Maricopa’s Food & Aid Distribution Non-Profit Assistance for a refrigeration truck to keep fresh the produce he brings to the city every week.
He was then told by City staff that Maricopa Pantry did not qualify because it was outside the city limits.
“Well, now I know where I stand with the City,” Shoaf said. “If I’m not one of them, why do they ask me to do Thanksgiving every year?”
Wednesday in special session, the city council discussed the distribution of the Business Reemergence Program and the Food & Aid Distribution Non-Profit Assistance. Before the meeting, staff had added Maricopa Pantry to the nonprofit list as a “contingency,” intending to possibly give those funds to the pantry if its application to the county was rejected.
Having informally heard the county was funding the pantry’s request (Shoaf has not heard directly from the county), City Manager Rick Horst said the pantry would be off the table for Maricopa.
But councilmembers asked that it remain on the approved list, still only as contingency, to be talked about later.
Councilmember Vincent Manfredi said the application the pantry made to the City was distinctly different from the application to the county and should be considered.
“I think what the pantry has been able to do for Maricopa is tremendous,” he said.
Vice Mayor Nancy Smith said the City and Pinal County had been clear those in the unincorporated area should apply to Pinal County and she was disappointed about the confusion that still arose. She said because of that misunderstanding and the possibility the pantry staff was given incorrect information by city staff, the application should remain on the City’s list.
Shoaf said the pantry had not been serving two locations during the pandemic because the demand did not allow him to split his staff. Some weeks, the demand at the Papago Road location has been double and triple normal.
More than 35 businesses and nonprofits were approved for funding by the city. Businesses can only use the money for rent and the cost of personal protective equipment. The funds automatically apply to July.
The mayor and council asked that a month’s extension be granted to businesses that were forced to close again at the executive order of the governor – namely, bars and gyms. Horst said staff would determine which businesses were affected by the order.
Vincent Manfredi is minority owner of InMaricopa.