California (Dec. 16, 2022) -- When Merilee Baptiste, executive director for the Arizona division of Midwest Food Bank in Gilbert, Arizona, heard about Farm Credit West’s monetary donation to her organization, she had one word.
“Tremendous,” she said of the $3,000 donation. “Financially, it’s so humbling to receive. We can take $1 and turn it into $30 of food or supplies. So $3,000 is really worth $90,000 to us. It’s tremendous.”
Merilee is one of 18 food bank directors around Arizona and California whose organizations received a $2,000-$3,000 donation from Farm Credit West this holiday season. In all, Farm Credit West contributed $53,000 in 2022 to nonprofits fighting food insecurity in its service regions.
The donations are in keeping with the Association’s long-term focus on giving back to the communities it serves, said Farm Credit West President and CEO Mark Littlefield.
“Stewardship is part of our Association’s core mission,” Mark said. “Year after year we keep a keen eye on the most vulnerable among us and respond with financial assistance.
“In times of need, it is imperative people have access to healthy foods,” he continued. “Providing financial support to our local food banks helps connect the nutritious foods our customers grow to those trying to make ends meet. We are humbled to support these important organizations in their mission to feed those in need.”
According to Merilee and the nonprofit agencies she works with, food pantry need is up about 25 percent from years past. The pandemic-driven need has lessened, but people are now struggling to keep up with inflation. Rising rents, fuel and food prices—it adds up for those just making it as it is, she said.
“All of our food is donated from manufacturers and distributors, so all we have to pay for is transportation,” Merilee said. “Monetary donations like Farm Credit West’s are critical to our mission as a nonprofit.”
A massive operation, the Midwest Food Bank in Gilbert distributes around $45-$50 million of food each year. With just 5 full time employees, the organization is run almost entirely by volunteers—250,000-300,000 each month, in fact.
Staff from Farm Credit West’s Tempe, Arizona branch have volunteered over the years, repackaging bulk items like crackers or cereal into consumable sizes.
From there, the food goes to community nonprofits, disaster relief efforts, weekend “backpack meals” for food-insecure kids, and Tender Mercies, a low-cost meal program. Midwest Food Bank works with around 280 agency partners to get food directly into schools, churches, foster homes, domestic violence shelters and families in need, among other entities.
“We are the No. 1 disaster relief partner for the Salvation Army in the U.S.” Merilee said. “We are entirely reliant on donations and volunteers, and we love having people join us in giving back to our community. We really appreciate Farm Credit working with us year after year.”