Holidays bring extra joy – and extra stress – to local families

Holidays bring extra joy – and extra stress – to local families

No matter where or how you celebrate the holidays, we all have family traditions that make this season special. For long-time Flagstaff Family Food Center volunteer, Merna, and her family, those traditions are centered around cooking a festive, bountiful meal together. Even the youngest family members, Merna’s five year-old twin nieces, pitch in. It’s really important to Merna that the girls get to help her roll out pie dough and tear up bread for stuffing. “That was done for me when I was young, so I want them to have the same experience,” Merna says. Merna took her nieces in when her brother was killed by a drunk driver in a car accident, bringing her household size to six. Merna says it’s hard to care for that many people on a fixed income, and even more challenging during the holidays when visiting relatives will add five more mouths to feed, including her son and daughter who respectively serve in the Navy and Air Force. “It’s a big deal to have them home for the holidays and I want to make it special.”

Merna has been volunteering at the Food Bank for years and started needing food assistance when she took in her brother’s children. Around the same time, her sister started having health problems and Merna became her caretaker. As the sole care provider, Merna says that “this year I just need the help.” 

“You’re clipping coupons, you’re doing everything you can to make it work,” but sometimes it’s just not enough to make ends meet. As a volunteer at the Food Bank, helping load cars with family food boxes and produce, Merna knows how hard it can be for people to ask for help. “People are embarrassed to ask for help, especially around the holidays.” Merna says the additional stress the holidays bring can be overwhelming – and is common for many families here in Flagstaff. “I actually made myself sick from the stress,” she says. “For a lot of families, the stress is the hardest part.” 

This year, Merna is planning on getting her Thanksgiving turkey from the Food Bank and tells us that it will make all the difference in her holiday budgeting. “It’s amazing what this is doing for me and my family,” she says. “I can’t be more thankful.”

*The Flagstaff Family Food Center distributes emergency family food boxes Tuesday through Saturday from 9am – 1pm. The Food Bank on Huntington will be closed on Thanksgiving Day and Friday, November 29th. The Food Bank will be open for food box distribution on Saturday, November 30th from 9am – 1pm. The Kitchen on 2nd St. will be open for a hot meal every day (including holidays) from 4 – 5:30pm. 


Home-bound Senior Delivery Program is about more than just food

Home-bound Senior Delivery Program is about more than just food

“I wouldn’t be able to eat if I didn’t have them bringing me food.” Carol, 83, a long-time Flagstaff resident and former teacher and bank teller, has been receiving home-bound meal deliveries from the Flagstaff Family Food Center since we took over the Commodity Senior Food Program from the Department of Economic Security in 2018. Carol owns a car but has too much trouble walking and moving around to be able to use it on her own. “I’d have to hire someone to go to the grocery store,” Carol says. “Even if I had money for the groceries, I probably couldn’t afford that.”

Each month, FFFC delivers a box of CSFP non-perishable food items and an FFFC family food box, consisting of mostly produce, as well as dairy, meat, and bread, to Carol’s home. The fresh produce is particularly valuable to Carol, who told us that fruits and vegetables are too expensive for her to purchase. As her budget got tighter, Carol wasn’t able to afford fresh produce and had to replace it with canned and processed non-perishable food. “My diet went downhill and I started to have trouble with my health. My doctor said, ‘Carol, you need to start eating more fruits and vegetables.’” Carol’s response: “Yeah, you wanna give me the money to buy them and I’ll eat them.”

Now Carol has consistent access to a variety of fruits and vegetables. Oranges, carrots, and grape tomatoes are her favorites. Her doctor has noticed a change in her diet, as well. At her last appointment, he told her that all of her vital signs were perfect. With regular home deliveries of nutritious food, Carol is healthier, happier, and able to keep up with her bills and expenses without worrying about putting food on the table. “As long as I have the Flagstaff Family Food Center, I won’t starve… I’ll have clothes. I won’t have to worry about anything.”

1 in 7 seniors in Arizona struggle with hunger. Seniors face a unique set of challenges, including depression and social isolation. Carol looks forward to her monthly food box deliveries for the social aspect, as much as anything. She counts on Cierra to be at her door on the first Thursday of every month, without fail. Carol always invites Cierra in for a snack, but she’s “so business-like” and has more deliveries to do. Knowing there will be someone bringing her food every month makes Carol feel like she lives in a community that cares about her. “We look out for each other,” Carol says about herself and her neighbors. “It’s how we survive.”