Posted: Aug. 23, 2011

Escalating numbers of hungry clients at John C. Lincoln's Desert Mission Food Bank will soon find expedited service and optimized comfort in an expanded intake and registration area funded by a $30,000 grant from the Phoenix Suns Charities.

"This is an unusual grant for us," explained Phoenix Suns Charities Executive Director Kathryn Pidgeon. "Usually we grant up to $20,000 per organization for a variety of worthy causes and once a year we grant $100,000 for major community needs. But when our Board saw the need at Desert Mission Food Bank, they were moved to approve a level of support that we have never before funded."

"The grant will provide Desert Mission with funding needed to expand the lobby and enhance customer service," said Cindy Hallman, vice president for Desert Mission and Community Services. "It is difficult enough for someone to walk through the doors at the food bank to say they need help," she explained. "We believe providing them with a comfortable and courteous environment can help reduce their anxiety and stress."

A key Desert Mission goal, Hallman noted, is not only to provide area residents with the support they need, but to provide that support in an environment that nurtures dignity and respect. The Food Bank's significant need for more client service space intensified through the tough economic conditions of the past few years, Hallman said.

"Three years ago, we were providing nutrition support for 4,991 individuals each month," she said. "Today, more than 6,322 people come to us monthly for food. That's a 27 percent increase in demand.

Our clients have been increasingly crowded into space that was designed for only a fraction of their numbers," Hallman said. "Now, thanks to the Board of Directors from the Phoenix Suns Charities, our food bank clients will soon receive services in a facility that matches our mission. "The newly renovated lobby and client services area of the Desert Mission Food Bank will be unveiled Thursday, Oct. 13, during a special V.I.P event, A Taste of Desert Mission, that will be held at the Food Bank's Fourth Street Market.

A dozen members of the Board of Directors for Phoenix Suns Charities plus two teen assistants and their executive director spent a recent morning at Desert Mission Food Bank, assembling weekend Snack Pacs for area students. "Our board members understand the need for collaboration amongst Arizona's non-profit organizations," said Executive Director Kathryn Pidgeon.

"Phoenix Suns Charities recognizes Desert Mission Food Bank's dedication and commitment to providing emergency food and nutrition education for families in our community," she said, "and many of our board members have toured the Desert Mission facilities. That's why we support this arm of John C. Lincoln Health Network.

"But my board members wanted a more intimate experience with Desert Mission," Pidgeon added, "and that's why we came down to spend a morning in the trenches, providing personal, hands-on assistance working for the food bank."

And work they did, assembling hundreds of the Snack Pacs, backpacks full of food distributed on Friday afternoons during the school year to North Phoenix students who might not otherwise get fed over the weekend.

While working to support Desert Mission's 2011-2012 school year Snack Pac program, the board members from Phoenix Suns Charities discovered Snack Pacs are just one of many innovative ways the Desert Mission Food Bank addresses food insecurity in North Phoenix. "

We were pleased to see the friendly atmosphere of the food bank's unique Fourth Street Market, where clients have the opportunity and assistance, where needed, to choose the foods they like," Pidgeon said. "After working at the food bank and seeing its operations from the inside, we were impressed with the human service we observed in the program, the dignity and respect with which clients are treated."

Board members were also favorably surprised to meet the food bank's demonstration chef who educates families on healthy and tasty recipes for food they receive or buy at deep discounts in the Fourth Street Market. "This experience has deepened the commitment by Phoenix Suns Charities to support the philanthropic efforts of John C. Lincoln," Pidgeon said.

Phoenix Suns Charities is the cornerstone of the professional basketball team's philanthropic foundation, which makes grants to other non-profit organizations in the community that serve children and youth in the areas of education, health and human services, the arts, sports and recreation, and rehabilitation. In the 23 years since its inception, Phoenix Suns Charities has donated more than $11.6 million to worthy Arizona organizations.