The holidays have started off slowly for a prominent Valley food bank, reigniting concerns that people might be wearing thin from giving to charities during a year filled with disaster worldwide.
Days after Thanksgiving, St. Mary’s/Westside Food Bank Alliance, which started the world’s first food bank in Phoenix in 1967, released turkey donation numbers that a spokeswoman said were "considerably lower" than last year’s.
The food bank missed its Thanksgiving turkey donation goal of 8,400 birds by about 20 percent, or more than 1,600 turkeys, and had to buy a truckload of birds.
"Individuals being asked to help with a number of disasters this year is what we are thinking may be contributing to the low numbers," spokeswoman Cynde Cerf wrote in an e-mail.
Many charities pushed Americans to help disaster victims, beginning with the Indian Ocean tsunami the day after Christmas last year, continuing with hurricanes Katrina and Rita in September and October and punctuated by a devastating South Asian earthquake in October.
Estimates of just how much Americans gave to disaster relief this year are hard to come by. But some charities have released figures about how much was spent or collected for individual disasters.
The American Red Cross spent $2 billion on hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the biggest disaster relief effort in the organization’s history.
Most years, as part of its nearly $3.2 billion budget, the Red Cross spends about 10 percent, or $315 million, on all disasters. This year, the organization collected $567 million for tsunami relief alone.
Donors gave heavily to the Salvation Army, too, providing about $275 million to help the organization deal with Katrina and Rita. Most years, it spends $10 million on all disaster relief.
The numbers add up to a huge showing of generosity by Americans well before the typical giving season began. But if donors are wearing thin, it could spell trouble for food banks that typically rely on the holidays to collect about a third of their annual donations in just more than a month.
"Unfortunately, we are battling a disaster on the home front," said Bob Evans, CEO of Mesa’s United Food Bank.
Every day in Arizona, about 686,000 people don’t know where their next meals will come from, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.
Evans’ United Food Bank worked a different strategy for collecting turkeys this year than other local food banks. They steered clear of predicting shortages. United met its donation goals.
"To me, it’s a subliminal message that gets sent out if you keep having to yell ‘wolf,’ " Evans said. "Is there need? Yeah, hell, always."
"I’m just not a believer in the woe-is-me, woe-is-me, thesky-is-falling approach."
Both food banks, however, said they need more volunteers this year. As the East Valley population grows, Evans said, more hungry are here and his food bank is growing.
Cerf and Evans were quick to remind that, even though the need to fight hunger goes hand-in-hand with the holidays, it’s an everyday problem. The things their organizations need now, they almost always need throughout the year.
For information on holiday giving, visit: Mesa’s United Food Bank at
St. Mary’s/Westside Food Bank Alliance at