PAGE – Hope and smiles are the most popular dishes served at Page’s Soup Kitchen.
The Healthy Meals Soup Kitchen and the Pantry are products of the 501(c)(3) Circle of Page, which is a nonprofit “serving the needs of people in and around Page, Ariz.”
With a collaboration with the St. Mary’s Food Bank, Safeway and Walmart programs, donations from individuals and businesses, the Circle of Page has been able to keep the Soup Kitchen and Pantry running strong through the pandemic.
Volunteers donate more than 300 hours of their time per month to keep the programs running, according to the Circle of Page’s Facebook page.
When the $600 per week CARES Act stimulus payment stopped in July of 2020, the Pantry and the Soup Kitchen saw quite the increase in activity.
“As soon as [the $600] went away, the numbers went up, and they have been wrapped around the building ever since then. The minute that went away, boom, lines shot up,” said Soup Kitchen Manager Cathy Steffen.
The Pantry and Soup Kitchen are located in Saint David’s Episcopal Church. Dine-in meals had to be postponed because of the pandemic, but the drive-thru has become an enormous success.
According to Steffen, she and her team of volunteers handed out 220 meals in 30 minutes one day.
“We used to be open on Mondays and Wednesdays and that’s when people could come in and eat. We are serving as many people (as possible) in one day than we did on both days,” Steffen said.
The Soup Kitchen is open to drive-thru only on Wednesdays 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.
“We even have people pull up on bicycles,” Steffen added.
Leftovers have become a thing of the past as the demand for cooked meals has increased.
“We never know how much to cook. When I make spaghetti … it’s out the door.”
Pantry Manager Tiffany Haynie runs the Pantry where they serve the community with food box distributions. The Pantry is open Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Before the pandemic, the Pantry would see about 50 visits per day of operation. Currently, they are seeing 80 to 100 visits.
Page Police Department let the Pantry borrow some cones and traffic barricades in order to streamline the increased demand of the drive-thru.
With a team of 30 volunteers, the Pantry served 404,104 pounds of food valued at $406,653.13 in 2020, according to Haynie. The Pantry was closed from April through July of last year due to the pandemic.
The Pantry is more than food. When available, they also have personal hygiene supplies as well as dog and cat food.
“The City of Page staff have donated a ton of their time. We’ve had police officers, firefighters, [animal control] come over and just donate time,” Haynie said about the increase in demand.
“Our Tuesday distribution seems to be busier because people are working and then coming over and getting a distribution, which is kind of a sad thing. You work all day, and you don’t have enough. But I’m glad it’s here, and we are doing what we’re doing,” she said.
The Page Public Library has followed in the direction of the Circle of Page and offers daily meals for the community Monday through Friday 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
“If people come by from anytime between 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. when we are open, we will pack their meals and give it to them. We have a set time, but then we also do it throughout the day to help out. And then we do weekend meals, which is nonperishable foods,” Page Library Manager Debbie Winlock said.
The library receives food donations from the Kids Café program, which is funded through Catholic charities in an effort to make sure no child goes hungry, according to Winlock.
“People have been so great helping others. The kids do not need to be present to pick up meals.”
Twice a year, the library launches its Food for Fines program, where late fees can be erased in lieu of nonperishable food donations.
“Instead of paying for their fines, they can bring in food. We extended it for the month of January because the [Pantry] was in such need. I’m hoping that maybe we can do it through February because February is Library Lovers Month. It helps them,” Winlock said.
Currently, the library is handing out 35 to 75 meals per day.
If hunger is the best spice, the Page community has come together under pandemic times in order to feed the future.
“I was raised to give back to your community if you have the opportunity and ability,” said Councilor Brian Carey, “and I enjoy cooking, so volunteering for the Healthy Meals program is a great fit for me. Working behind the scenes is also a great change of pace from my former career, and I have enjoyed working with all of the other great volunteers to do something positive for those who need it in our town and surrounding communities.
“Sharing a meal with someone is a genuine human connection as far as I am concerned.”