RIO RICO, Ariz. - The produce industry in Santa Cruz County brings billions of dollars into the local economy. Now in the coronavirus crisis it's bringing donated food to hungry families. The latest donations are feeding Arizona’s tribal nations, with the help of the Arizona National Guard.
National Guard trucks towing civilian trailers brought 60 tons of fresh produce to three of Arizona’s Native American Nations, the Navajo, the Hopi and the White Mountain Apaches. They have been especially hard hit by coronavirus.
The food came from the Santa Cruz County produce packing industry. Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce Bracker says talking with Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson, they saw a need---and an opportunity to help.
“We're talking about just the hardship up there and since Santa Cruz County had been working with Pima County to do local southern Arizona produce distributions, we thought, why don't we try to pull something together for Northern Arizona, the tribal nations.”
In the space of three days the National Guard, and civilian volunteers gathered a wide range of vegetables and fruit in Scott Vandervoet’s Rio Rico warehouse. Guardsmen drove it all north to the tribes.
Industry leaders say none of this was excess food because of the downturn. It was valuable merchandise they could have sold.
Scott Vandervoet is also chair of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. He says, “None of these items were donated because of surplus, they were donated because of the need. We saw the opportunity to assist with fellow Arizonans, and we took advantage of that.”
The donation to the tribes to the North is an extension of the food assistance Santa Cruz County produce companies have been spreading across Southern Arizona.
Jaime Chamberlain leads J-C Distributing and chairs the Santa Cruz County Port Authority. He says Santa Cruz County shippers have a hundred year history bringing produce from Mexico and a history of helping however they can.
“It's an industry that we really take a tremendous pride in working in, and when we have an opportunity to help fellow Arizonans or anyone else who may need to help, we've always been able to step up in that way.”