For 31 years, the Flagstaff Family Food Center kitchen at 1903 N. Second St. has opened and is serving food in Sunnyside. This is a critical service – one of this week’s severe storms has failed to disrupt.
But that doesn’t mean it’s business as usual for the organization.
Highway closures prevented deliveries to Flagstaff Family Food Center (FFFC) warehouses. FFFC Executive Director Ethan Amos said three to five semi trucks per week would normally stop at the east side warehouse. Highway closures, imposed by power-cut conditions and dangerously high winds on Wednesday, reduced the number of incoming shipments.
According to Amos, food centers are careful to stock up on excess food in case of an emergency — food they can ration and rely on in the event of a failed delivery. Because of the back-stock, said Amos, the center should be able to operate by the end of this week, if the forecast remains the same.
A whiteout condition prevented food from entering the FFFC facility this week. They are also a barrier to getting food back into communities where people depend on the distribution of food boxes.
This week, four truckloads of deliveries were cancelled, resulting in an estimated 80,000-90,000 pounds of food not being delivered to northern Arizona residents in need.
Amos hopes that because the lunch box is designed to feed a family of four for more than a week, people will get what they need in the meantime.
Even so, the warehouse is open to people who need it. The dwindling force of volunteers arrived Thursday morning at the Huntington Avenue warehouse, where the parking lot was shaped like a parabola, and the removal of snow and ice posed little difficulty in operations.
“Just like every other business, we struggle to get plow services. We have the worst parking lots, but we have staff who are committed to client safety,” said Amos.
If a volunteer needs to help a vehicle out of the lot, only one car is allowed into the lot at a time. Not infrequently, according to Amos, the car needs a little push to get out of the steep incline and return to the road.
In summer, says Amos, FFFC volunteers will provide one car per minute with a box of essential groceries. On Thursday, the volunteers took a closer look at one car arriving every three to five minutes.
According to Amos’ estimates, that still means between 50 and 100 cars will be serviced on Thursday alone.
Slippery road conditions have stood between the center’s regular troop of volunteer volunteers and their station, filling food boxes and helping clients in the Huntington Avenue warehouse.
“We experience cancellations every day for every shift. We understand. I’m hesitant to ask staff to come in to work, but if volunteers can’t come in, we totally understand. We definitely want capable people to come to do it. We can operate depending on what we have,” said Amos.
The warehouse distribution center will likely be closed today, according to Amos, due to the overnight forecast.
Warehouses remain open whenever and wherever possible, but safety concerns are paramount.
Amos said that in the past, the FFFC has used the Flagstaff Unified School District’s schedule of delays and snow cancellations as a yardstick for determining whether to open the warehouse to the public.
“They have other considerations besides road safety. For us the concern is road safety. We will be creating a new communication plan to let our clients know when we are closed. We don’t want to be closed when we could have been open, given the road conditions. That’s one way we can improve our services,” said Amos.
He also hopes to improve client communication to make it clearer to the public which FFFC services and facilities are open and when. Social media and mailing lists are some of the options nonprofits are considering for distributing snow schedule information to clients.
“Sometimes it is difficult for clients to contact us. We are so busy, we are so busy, I think we can improve our customer service. We will commit to moving forward. We want to be consistent,” said Amos.
Between 100 and 200 members of the public eat at the Sunnyside food pantry every day, according to Amos. When resources are limited, the program takes priority.
“Our kitchen program is something we are committed to staying open every day,” says Amos. “That’s simply because we provide all the food to Flagstaff Shelter Services. If we close, not only will community members come to us without dinner, the Flag Shelter Service will have to embark on a different plan to get food.
Perhaps because of transportation safety concerns, FFFC has seen a “dwindling number” of clients seeking services.
“My director of operations texted me and said it was slow and steady, but people were still coming in,” he said.
When the weather is sunny, said Amos, FFFC will be ready to help meet the needs of the community and prepare residents’ pantries to face the next storm.
“There are a few of us on call so when we open we can go. It does more than open the front of the warehouse. We have to load the box. We have a production line. We have to make two, three, four hundred boxes a day. That’s quite a lot of prep work to do,” says Amos. “When the client comes in, if there’s a vacancy in the weather, we’ll be able to handle them.”