Adopt a Family for Christmas
“There, but for the Grace of God, go I.”
This sentiment is one that often comes to mind whenever we start feeling too smug about our comfortable lives and that everything will remain perfect as long as we work hard and do all the right things. In the midst of the peacefulness and beauty of the surrounding Sonoran Desert, in towns that exude Disneyland-like, family-friendly perfection, it is hard to imagine that there are families here who are going through tough times. Life can change in an instant; jobs that once seemed so secure are now gone; illness and death cripple families’ income and well-being. It is comforting to know that a wonderful organization such as the Foothills Food Bank exists, especially now during the holiday season.
Foothills Food Bank
Located in rustic Cave Creek, the Foothills Food Bank was founded in 1988 as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization with the mission of providing food and necessities or financial assistance to families experiencing a crisis in their lives. The food bank assists families throughout the North Valley area, from Anthem and New River to North Scottsdale and Rio Verde.
Executive director Pam DiPietro tells us, “When I started to work at the food bank in 2002 we were seeing an average of 30 families a month. We now average 375 families a month. In 2008 was when it exploded. From January, 2008 until now, we have grown more than 213 percent, and we continue to grow.
“We are seeing about 10 new families a month. Fortunately, some families no longer need our services so we are maintaining. The families that we see come from all walks of life. We service a large area and we have seen people from Desert Mountain, the Boulders, Rio Verde and all the way north to Black Canyon City and everything in between.”
Pam came to the Foothills Food Bank 10 years ago after a very full life of volunteer positions, including president of the Girl Scout Council, and also 20 years as business manager for her church in Illinois. She and her husband Peter have five grown children and six grandchildren.
“I love what I do, helping people,” Pam says. I am motivated by the fact that in a small way, I can make a difference and I am driven by that thought.”
People Like You and Me
The financially strapped people who come to the food bank for assistance are a lot like you and me.
One day four years ago, an elegant woman of 72 came in to the food bank and it was assumed that she was there as a donor. But, as it turned out, this well-dressed woman in a St. John’s designer knit suit was a homeless widow, currently living in her Mercedes. She had recently lost her luxurious home in a wealthy neighborhood after suffering a severe financial loss to an investment swindler. The food bank was there to help her. Now 76, she lives on her meager Social Security income and the earnings she makes as a caregiver.
One man, in his 50s, also living in a well-known neighborhood, had lost a job as an executive and could not find another in his field. He held off as long as he could, but finally came into the food bank for assistance. He will probably lose his home, but the food bank is there to help him along the way back.
A 57-year-old woman is completely homeless; she has no car, her husband is in prison, and she recently lost her apartment. She lives in the desert. She has a strong can-do attitude and is striving to get ahead. She recently found a dentist who gave her a bridge at no charge so she can be more presentable when she goes out looking for a job. She is low-skilled so it will be difficult for her to find employment. In the meantime, the food bank is there to help her obtain food. Local businesses have also let her use their rest rooms to clean up.
Adopt a Family
The Adopt a Family holiday program started back in the 1980s when Cathie Rosenbaum, her friend Nan Boyle Searle, and later Shirley Jones, saw a need to help families at Thanksgiving and Christmas time. “After the first year, we got some funding from the Foothills Community Foundation and it was a part of their program for several years until we joined the Foothills Food Bank,” Cathie says. “In the early years, we helped about 60 families; last year 225.” The program is now chaired by Cathie Rosenbaum and Robin Kilbane.
In addition to providing the food for holiday feasts to its clients (the Kiwanis of Carefree have helped in this regard by donating gift cards for turkeys), the Foothills Food Bank also gives out Christmas gifts through the Adopt a Family Program. Donors can be single givers, families or other groups who have a strong desire to share the happiness of the holiday season with another family. Donors are matched with clients and are given a wish list filled out by the client. Client families’ names are identified only by a number. Donors and clients rarely meet. Donors buy at least one gift for each person on the list, wrap it, put the presents in a black bag identified by the family number and bring it into the Foothills Community Foundation building. A festive Christmas party is held for the clients around the middle of December, complete with a visit from Santa and extra toys are distributed by Santa’s helpers, the men of the local fire departments.
“The items given can range from kitchen items to bathroom items and everything in between,” Pam shares. “It can be IT equipment … last year a single gentleman asked for a recliner and the donor was able to purchase one at a reasonable cost at the Kiwanis flea market. Donors have written checks to help get eye glasses for someone, and help a woman that had cancer by donating dollars to help pay some of her bills. An organization helped a family catch up on bills. I could go on and on with the kind of gifts people have received. The donors are very generous.”
“It is wonderful to see the children so excited and the parents are happy that their families will have a nice holiday with presents,” Robin Kilbane adds. “I feel fortunate to be able to help make this project happen, as I feel so thankful to have a wonderful family, great friends and an abundant life.”
Cathie said, “It is a great teaching tool for children to learn to give to others and it’s not just about receiving gifts. The receiving families are very appreciative and many write thank you notes.”
“The food bank is very proud of the fact that we are able to provide gifts for many families who would otherwise not have a very happy holiday,” Pam remarks. “We are also very proud that we are able to provide holiday dinners for all of our clients for Thanksgiving as well as Christmas.”
“The donors feel great about helping, especially in their community,” Robin shares. “There are many tennis and golf groups, garden clubs, church groups, civic organizations and neighborhoods that participate.”
One such group is the golf club group headed up by Laura Jones. Laura was already in the habit of donating food to the food bank when she received an email with information about Adopt a Family. Laura’s Friday golf group have an annual Christmas party at her house, so she saw that as an opportunity for the golf members to adopt a family and give them gifts as part of their holiday celebration.
“This is an anonymous donor event so we have never had the chance to meet any of the families,” Laura says, “but you do begin to feel a relationship to the family that you have adopted as you shop for each individual participating. It’s so much fun when one of the family members has a love for arts and crafts or a specific sport and you find a great item that they really want.”
“The women in my group are so generous. One of our ladies wraps packages like a professional and it is always fun to see her work. She takes an entire family and wraps each family member’s packages with a theme; the best was one little girl’s packages that were wrapped to look like a Santa, with a ribbon running down the front with buttons on it. We look forward to participating every year and appreciate all the hard work that the volunteers at Foothill Food Bank invest in making the holidays special for so many families.”
Foothills Food Bank Hours of Operation:
Mornings: Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Afternoons: Thursdays and Fridays; 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. (except third Thursday each month)
Evenings: Tuesdays & Thursdays; 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
*Care Club; First Wednesday and third Thursday each month.
*Care Club: Every 30 days clients can receive free dry goods and frozen foods, enough for nine meals. Available on the first Wednesday and third Thursday of each month. For a fee of $15 clients can obtain $50-$60 worth of food.
Food items needed:
Canned pasta, tuna, chicken, tomatoes, pasta sauce, etc.
Canned soups, stews, etc.
Dry instant milk
Boxes of potato, rice and pasta side dishes
Toiletries and bars of soap
Diapers sizes 5 and 6