By Katie Mayer
When Jim Shoaf was just a boy, he gravitated toward the kids that his peers often picked on or disregarded. His best friend had mental disabilities, and Shoaf regularly protected a fellow student in special education who was often the target of bullying.
“I don’t like to see people hurting,” Shoaf said. “It always bothered me.”
It still does.
Today, many Maricopa residents know Shoaf by his silver pickup truck and trailer – often seen carrying food – and hope – to those in need.
“Everybody knows who it is,” said Loree Thompson, who volunteers with Shoaf. “He is the food bank guy.”
Shoaf founded the Mountain View Community Church Food Bank 13 years ago out of his backyard and has grown it into a critical community resource with two locations and up to 40,000 pounds of food each weekend it opens.
Earlier this year, the Hidden Valley resident was named 2016 Volunteer of the Year by the Maricopa Chamber of Commerce. His food bank also received recognition as 501(c)(3) of the year by the Maricopa Business Council.
“Jim is very compassionate, very loving and very caring,” said Renate Chamberlin, a longtime local community volunteer, who presented the chamber award to Shoaf. “He’s somebody you want in your corner because he won’t let you down.”
Although Shoaf has always “had a calling” to help others, it was when he was at his lowest that he found the strength to raise those around him.
About five years ago, Shoaf lost his longtime job with UPS and was left unemployed in his mid-50s. A man of deep Christian faith, he trusted God, but couldn’t understand why it happened.
“I was sort of angry with God because I worked hard, I was good to everybody and I (still) lost my job,” Shoaf recalled.
Then Shoaf suffered an even greater loss. After years of battling addiction and even serving jail time, Shoaf’s son David finally turned his life around during the summer Shoaf was out of work. Shoaf reconnected with his son, who lived in Kentucky, and the pair “patched up the sorrows.” But then tragedy struck and David was killed that fall in a car wreck.
“It was terrible,” Shoaf said. “My hair went gray overnight.”
Shoaf and his wife Alice received their son’s remains on a Thursday and shortly after received a call that a truckload of food was coming in.
“My wife said, ‘What are we going to do?’ so I asked the Lord, and that day, the truck came in with 133,000 roses inside,” Shoaf said. “I made a whole lot of women smile as I handed out the roses.”
He added, “We had the funeral on Sunday and gave out food and roses on Saturday.”
The timing of the roses and the hope they brought to both the Shoafs and those they served reminded them that they needed to keep doing the work they believed in.
Shoaf accepted a job as a school bus driver with Maricopa Unified School District, where he continues to drive today. The district has become a food pick-up location for those who visit his food bank, while the students have given hundreds of volunteer hours and raised spare change.
“I greatly appreciate (Shoaf’s) work for MUSD,” said Steve Chestnut, district superintendent. “Jim is also a tremendous asset to Maricopa, because of his excellent volunteer work providing food to needy families.”
Many supporters of Shoaf’s food bank said they choose to support it because Shoaf places no restrictions on who can receive assistance. He also finds ways to support people in need of other items, locally and in other states, and even other countries. If there is a way to help, it’s safe to say Shoaf will find it.
“If someone needs food, no matter what their stature was last week, if they are in need of food, he is willing to get it for them,” said Chris Cahall, owner of American Family Insurance and supporter of Mountain View Community Church Food Bank, which also utilizes F.O.R. Maricopa’s resources.
Cahall and those like him are critical supporters for the food bank, which faces a new challenge of obtaining enough food to feed those in need, Shoaf said.
In recent months, discount food stores bought up much of the food Shoaf could formerly purchase, making it hard for him to obtain the quantity of food at the prices he used to pay. His longtime model at the food bank has been that a needy family is asked to donate $10 to receive $40-$50 worth of food. Since most families cannot afford the donation, Shoaf gives them the food anyway and is able to rely on the support of donors in the community and at the church to make up the difference.
But with food prices rising due to the demand of the discount stores, he is in need of more support from Maricopa’s business community.
“I’m going to start asking the businesses for support,” Shoaf said. “I know if I can get the right sponsors to donate in Maricopa, I know I can compete with the dollar stores.”
To help bridge the gap in the short term, Shoaf has gotten creative at finding ways to obtain food. He gathers extra food from stores in town and collects donations. He even donated $1,000 of his own money to buy 350 turkeys over Thanksgiving. The money he donated was also enough to obtain 250 hams for Christmas and a case of chicken.
“We still have trouble paying the bills at the food bank,” Shoaf said, “but we get them paid somehow.”
Shoaf, a father and grandfather, said he couldn’t do much of what he does for the community without the support of his wife of 38 years. Together, the couple does more than just feed the hungry – they feed their hearts.
“Food banks carry a stigma,” Shoaf said. “We try to make it a friendly experience and carry the food out to their cars and talk with them. … I know about their husband with cancer and little girl who has had heart surgeries … we take the time to get to know them.”
He added, “There are a whole lot of people out there who just need somebody to show them they care and I’ve spent my whole life doing that.”
This story appeared in the June issue of InMaricopa.