(BENSON) The holidays are marked with a variety of traditions, and the season at Arizona Generation and Transmission Cooperatives (AzGT) is no exception to that rule. From a food drive to benefit the Benson Area Food Bank to a supply drive for Cochise County senior citizens, AzGT employees continued the tradition of helping those in need.
For more than a decade, AzGT has held a food drive to benefit the Benson Area Food Bank. This year, AzGT employees donated more than 1000 pounds of nonperishable food items and $285 in cash and checks. The drive started on the week of Thanksgiving and concluded on the week before Christmas.
“We’re a big contributor,” said Shannon Garner, AzGT human resources specialist. “It’s important for the community to support the local food bank.”
The food bank provides food boxes to families who qualify through the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program as well as through the Nutrition Assistance program with the Arizona Department of Economic Security. Those families can receive a box every other month. Joy Reilly, the president of the Benson Area Food Bank, estimates the food donations can fill about two months’ worth of boxes for families.
“I think it’s fantastic that everyone does something to help the people of our town,” Reilly said. “Without it, people would go hungry. We don’t turn people away.”
In addition to food boxes, the food bank will provide bread, produce and sweets once a week to families who walk in to the office. Up to 1000 families or about 2500 people a month rely on that support. Children from one to five years old can receive a food box and milk once a month. The cash and check donation from AzGT should cover about 150 gallons of milk.
“We appreciate it so much,” Reilly said.
Churches and other community organizations support the food bank, also. Reilly points out that the food bank does not receive any government support; it relies completely on donations.
“Without the help of everyone in Benson, we would have to buy it,” Reilly said. “This helps tremendously.”
“There’s always an extra need this time of year,” Garner said. “Supporting the community is supporting our members, and that is critical to us as a cooperative.”
Along with donating to the food bank, AzGT employees also supported a supply drive for Cochise County senior citizens. About 150 senior families across the county need help acquiring basic supplies that range from toilet paper to lip balm.
“It’s important to recognize seniors because they can easily be overlooked. They’re isolated without family around them,” said Kathleen Ortega, internal audit manager for AzGT, who has been in charge of the drive since 2013. “It makes me so grateful. It’s nice that our group does this.”
Those who look after Cochise County seniors are also grateful for the help. Leisa Cotten, senior nutrition director in Cochise County for Catholic Community Services, says receiving these basic supplies will be the only way many of these seniors celebrate Christmas.
“We’re the only program that provides a service to them every day,” Cotten said.
The supply drive ran from early November to the beginning of December with a box for donations in the lobby of both Apache Station and the Benson campus. Those who did not have time to donate supplies were welcome to donate money for needed items. The AzGT supply drive for seniors provided 161 pairs of socks, 150 boxes of cider or cocoa mix, 163 sticks of lip balm, 152 tubes of lotion, 171 boxes of tissues, 68 rolls of toilet paper, 150 rolls of paper towels, 168 towels, 64 placemats, and 97 miscellaneous holiday items. Those miscellaneous donations ranged from mugs to boxes of mints.
“They would be happy even with a placemat,” Cotten said about the recipients. “They’re pleased that someone thought of them.”
Along with AzGT, civic clubs, churches and friends also provide support.
“I cannot express to anybody with the right words or the right amount of kindness what this means,” Cotten said. “If I did not have the public help us with this program, it would not survive.”
Ortega estimates that this year’s drive provided about four percent more support than last year.
“People are struggling, and it’s nice to give them something,” she said. “It’s nice to see the reactions when I explain what the cooperative is doing for the community. It’s part of the cooperative culture.”