Cuauhtémoc Toledo pushed a shopping cart full of packaged goods and fresh produce across the parking lot of the Community Food Bank Nogales Resource Center, just a few minutes after the business opened early Tuesday morning.
“I’ve been coming here for approximately two years,” the 62-year-old said as he quickly loaded the boxes of food onto his car. “I have four kids, so it helps a lot because sometimes we’re missing some food at the house.”
Behind him, more than a dozen other people either stood in line for their turn to check in, or worked their way through the boxes of fruits and vegetables to fill their own carts.
For several years, the food bank at 2636 Donna Ave. at the north end of Nogales has been operating under a regular schedule of 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. However, after seeing greater need and demand from the Nogales and Rio Rico areas, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, which operates food bank resource centers in Nogales, Amado, Green Valley, Tucson and Marana, announced last week that it would extend its business hours at the local center next month, with operations running from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays.
“The (Nogales) food bank feeds and distributes the second-most amount of food within our network,” said Kristen Culliney, who directs resource centers and a community kitchen for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. “We realized that, for the amount of food that is going out the door, for the amount of people they are serving, they just didn’t have enough hours.”
The announcement to extend business hours at the Nogales center was accompanied by changes at other locations as well, including cutting back the hours at the Amado Resource Center.
After taking a closer look and speaking with the clients at the Amado center, Culliney said, staff members realized that nearly 60 percent of their customers were people who traveled from Nogales and Rio Rico.
“It’s about 27 miles to Amado from Nogales, so why would we have somebody use their money, their time, their gas and their vehicle to get there if we can provide that same level of service in their own communities?” Culliney said.
Rio Rico resident Patricia Carlos, who has used the services at the Nogales food bank for about three years, said she knows several people who make the trip to the Amado Resource Center because they believe the food options there are different from those offered in Nogales.
But Culliney disputed those rumors, saying that the products offered change slightly only once in a while.
“Sometimes bonus or plus items change, but not a lot for someone to drive 27 miles one-way to get food. At the end of the day, the product is about the same,” she said.
Still, Culliney added, she hopes the new working hours will help fill the gaps for those Nogales and Rio Rico residents who felt compelled to make the longer drive to Amado due to their schedules conflicting with the operation’s previous hours.
The new operating hours don’t make much of a difference to Carlos, who has been turning to the center for help while struggling to find employment. But she expressed hope that more people will be able to use the Nogales food bank’s services while dealing with their own struggles.
“It’s very difficult to get a job around here and a lot of people need the help. This place offers a lot of help, but some people just can’t make it on time,” she said, adding that she frequently shares her groceries with neighbors in need.
The new schedule will be implemented on Sept. 3 as the organization gradually moves towards its busier season around the holidays. But Culliney said the food bank is viewing the hours adjustment as a permanent change, rather than seasonal.
“We were not providing enough hours for the need of the area. If anything, we would look at what other hours we need to extend,” she said.
Learn more about the food bank at www.communityfoodbank.org/Locations/Nogales or by calling (520) 281-2790.