Nogales, AZ—Early on Wednesday morning, members of Arizona’s National Guard arrived at Santa Cruz Cold Storage in Rio Rico, Arizona to pick up three truckloads of fresh produce destined for the Hopi, Navajo, and White Mountain Apache Nations in Northeast Arizona. They are among the hardest hit communities facing the coronavirus outbreak. The produce shipments are part of ongoing efforts in Santa Cruz and Pima Counties to help people needing a little extra help stretching food budgets during the challenges created by COVID-19.
“It’s a good feeling to see the trucks heading out,” said Scott Vandervoet, Chairman of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA). “I hope this helps ease the burden for people trying to make sure they can feed their families. It’s our responsibility as friends, neighbors, and fellow Arizonans to try and help each other in challenging times. From the first moment we received the request from Santa Cruz County until now, I’m so proud of how this community has come together.”
The plan to send fresh produce to the three Nations was put together in a matter of days and was truly an example of a community working together. Bruce Bracker, Santa Cruz County Supervisor, and Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson have been tireless in finding ways to get food to the people that need it. Bruce made calls and handled the logistics of where and how to send the produce and has been a motivating force in this effort.
“COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for Santa Cruz County and for everyone in Arizona and the nation. But this is also a challenge for each of us to find ways in which we can help out our neighbors. Santa Cruz County, in cooperation with Pima County, and our great and generous partners in the produce industry have provided tons of fresh produce that have helped feed thousands of families in Southern Arizona. But we also recognized the need in the tribal nations in northern Arizona. The shipment of three commercial truckloads of fresh produce will help meet the essential nutritional needs for more than 6,000 families in the Hopi, Navajo and White Mountain Apache Nations. I know that this is only a temporary relief, but we hope we can do more in the future,” stated Chairman Bruce Bracker of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors.
At the same time, Emmis Yubeta from the FPAA staff, Scott Vandervoet, Chairman of the FPAA, and Jaime Chamberlain, Chairman of the Greater Nogales Santa Cruz County Port Authority started making calls and sending emails to local produce companies. Almost a dozen Arizona produce companies immediately diverted pallets of fresh Mexican produce destined for retail shelves and instead set them aside for the trip north, including cucumbers, bell peppers, honeydew melons, green beans, zucchini, and acorn squash, to name a few.
In a letter to Chairman Bracker and Supervisor Bronson, Jesse Thompson of the Navajo Board of Supervisors wrote, “I want to express my deepest appreciation to you and your teams for reaching out to the Tribal Nations of Northern Arizona to determine our need for fresh produce during these extraordinary times. If you would, please express our thanks to those who participated.”
Santa Cruz Cold Storage, a local warehouse, dedicated a portion of its space to hold and stage the incoming produce. The Nogales and Tucson Community Foodbank were instrumental in coordinating on this effort and requesting the help of the National Guard. 5 Star Bobtail Service helped pick up produce from various companies around town, and the Arizona National Guard picked up the loads of produce and delivered them to the Tribal Nations late Wednesday. Refrigerated trucks for the trip north were provided by Wise Trucking, and pallets of additional boxes to assist in packing variety boxes for individual families were donated by WestRock.
The National Guard arrives to hook up the tractors and head north
Timothy Nuvangyaoma, Chairman of The Hopi Tribe, said of the outreach, “We are very grateful to the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas for coordinating with Santa Cruz County, Pima County and the Arizona National Guard for reaching out to the Hopi Community to provide fresh produce to assist our Hopi community. With this donation, I know our Hopi people will be happy with the generosity. In these uncertain times it’s very important to continue to nurture relationships and partnerships with organizations like the Arizona National Guard and the Santa Cruz County. Thank you for facilitating the contribution to our fight against COVID-19. Kwa-kwah.”
Emmis Yubeta, director of membership and events with the FPAA said, “I’m overwhelmed with emotion at how many people have answered calls to help. Each and every time I made a phone call, the person answering asked me how they could help. I feel that I truly do work with the best industry. The produce industry came together to help in a time of need, and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.”
“With emergency situations, like we are all facing today with COVID-19, it is imperative that we be prepared to act quickly,” stated Supervisor Sharon Bronson of the Pima County Board of Supervisors. “Food security is most important during this time of crisis as uncertainty looms about the future. Families don’t have time to wait for solutions when they are hungry. We need to act to meet the food security of everyone, regardless of jurisdictional boundaries. We are in this together, and we will recover together. Thanks to all who made this a reality.”
Produce Arriving at the Navajo Nation around 10:30 pm on Wednesday.