Gilbert residents in need of food assistance may have to look to neighboring cities for help as the town develops their social services.
There are two food banks in Gilbert to serve the 242,955 or more residents, as of 2015, who may need additional help. Currently, Vineyard Community Church and Open Arms Care Center are local options for Gilbert residents in need of a food pantry or emergency food boxes.
On Sept. 1, Gilbert partnered with United Food Bank for their annual, month–long Gilbert Feeding Families food drive. Last year 201,553 meals were provided to Gilbert residents alone by United Food Bank. The community alone raised 123,000 meals in 2016.
“There is some expansion that could be done,” said Melanie Dykstra, the Community Resources Supervisor and Management Support Analyst for Gilbert.
A Human Services Needs Assessment was conducted in Gilbert in 2014 to further examine social services already offered and identify any gaps within those services. The Williams Institute, the company hired to do the assessment, also provided the town with recommendations on how to best handle groups identified as having critical needs.
One recommendation encouraged the town to create partnerships with nearby cities, primarily Chandler and Mesa, to provide resources that help create additional shelter services as well as offset costs of the low–income housing provided by Gilbert.
Many food banks or churches that offer food assistance, including United Food Bank, are located in Chandler and Mesa. According to Dykstra, many faith–based groups provide food assistance, including Vineyard Community Church and Open Arms Care Center.
“Churches handle food distribution to needy families and individuals differently. Our church chooses to keep Fry’s gift cards on hand to give to walk–ins asking for assistance,” said Neil Pitchel, the pastor of central operations at Redemption Church located in Gilbert.
The assessment also ranked nine population groups in order of importance regarding their need level. Seniors and youth were ranked fourth and seventh respectively. Many of the nonprofits that are funded by the town grant specifically target these groups.
The East Valley Adult Resources center offers congregate meal plans to seniors as well as a Meals on Wheels delivery to older adults who may not be able to go out and get food for themselves.
Matthew’s Crossing food bank provides weekend backpack food bags to children under their Meals To Grow plan. Currently they deliver to 14 K-12 schools in the East Valley.
In 2009, Gilbert created the Neighbor 2 Neighbor program to allow residents to donate funds that would later be disbursed to nonprofits. In 2012 the Share My Stamp program was created to advertise a donation option on utility bills in Gilbert that would go to Neighbor 2 Neighbor.
At the same time the Share My Stamp program was created, the Gilbert Council chose to cut funding to nonprofits over a five–year period. Those funds initially being used were from the town’s general fund.
Donations from Neighbor 2 Neighbor are distributed to nonprofits who have applied and been approved for the annual grant funding by the town council. For the 2017-2018 fiscal year the town awarded $354,300 to nonprofit agencies. The Neighbor 2 Neighbor program alone generated $76,400 of the $430,700 that was used for support.
Of the 24 nonprofits that the town chose to fund for 2017-2018, only two of them are food banks: United Food Bank and Matthew’s Crossing Food Bank. Other programs such as Gilbert Community Action Program offer food referrals to clients that can be used to go to other facilities such as Open Arms Care Center.
Many organizations, such as A New Leaf, help clients receive high school diplomas or higher education degrees while also building on skill sets to aid in employment searches. This is in addition to typical shelter services which are available to Gilbert residents who may be homeless.
“Our organization provides meals through our shelters and support programs, but we do not have any food aid programs in Gilbert,” said Kyle Harris, the marketing and communications manager at A New Leaf.
For those who may not qualify for services the town has funded, food pantries are alternative solutions. However, food pantries have limited hours and each pantry or organization’s eligibility requirements are different. Most require clients show up with an ID and register with that particular food pantry.
With the town focusing on upcoming infrastructure projects, it is unclear what additional steps will be taken to make food assistance more accessible to those who need it.