September 21 - September 27, 1995

The Community Food Bank Goes Out On A Financial Limb To Help More Of The Poor.

B y  D a n  H u f f

CALL IT PUNCH Woods' big dream--or his ultimate nightmare.

Certainly his intentions were the very best, as were those of the Community Food Bank board of directors.

But some critics say the Food Bank folks have committed themselves to a gargantuan white elephant--one that could possibly sink all that Woods has worked so hard to build during the past 17 years, and in the process jeopardize the lives of thousands of hungry Tucsonans, many of them children.

What they've done is buy a gigantic old Levy's Department Store warehouse on South Park Avenue and West 27th Street, for a huge amount of money--at least by the Food Bank's standards--$2.7 million.

That means this absolutely essential charity must come up with roughly $22,000 a month just to meet its mortgage payment.

"To multiply that number by 12 is scary," Woods admits.

Some employees are afraid they'll lose their jobs in a belt-tightening. Woods says that won't happen.

Critics say they're worried food programs will be cut. Again, Woods says that won't happen.

"We'll be leasing back a portion of the warehouse for the first couple of years, which is $9,000 a month, so subtract that out of the $22,000," he says.

OK--but here's hoping they sell their old, now-vacant warehouse and offices soon, because that's still costing them roughly $5,000 a month.

Then again, perhaps the situation isn't as dire as it might seem.

Food Bank board member Lew Murphy, a former Tucson mayor, notes the organization has roughly $2 million in pledges coming in during the next three or four years, thanks to a recent capital campaign.

Of course some of that money's got to go for things other than bricks and mortar--forklifts, trucks, whatever.

But let's say that leaves roughly $700,000 in debt--still a pile of money.

And it also leaves a few donors a little bit miffed--some say they thought the money they contributed to the recent capital campaign was going to pay off the $540,000 debt on the old buildings, thus freeing up the $60,000 mortgage payment to buy more meals--125,000 more a year, to be precise.

By Woods' own admission, the Food Bank, while housed in the old buildings, was able to provide services only to one-third of Tucson families in need. Many were turned away. And because of space limitations, more than $4 million worth of donated food had to be turned away each year.

But, Woods says, the new, much more spacious warehouse will allow the organization to accept tons and tons more food, and that means a lot more meals.

It's a fabulous improvement--assuming the Food Bank folks can pay the rent, of course.

And to do that, Woods has one more trick up his sleeve.

For years he's talked about how difficult it is for poor people to get assistance in this sprawling grid of a town--government agencies assisting those in need are scattered all over the place. Many a single mom plugging away at a minimum-wage job just doesn't have the time, or the transportation, to reach all the agencies offering help. The elderly poor, too, find it difficult to get all the help they need.

But the Food Bank's new digs has roughly 40,000 square feet of office space available above the warehouse floor. Woods says he hopes to renovate this space and rent it out to assistance agencies, whether state, federal or city. Presto--one-stop shopping for the poor.

It's a brilliant dream. And if Woods and his board can make it a reality, the positive impact on our community will be tremendous, undoubtedly affecting everything from child abuse rates, to IQ scores, to taxpayer-covered medical expenses, to life expectancy, to the burglary rate and thousands of other lives and circumstances we can't begin to imagine.

It's the dream of a dedicated, caring, supremely civilized man.

And so far, not one single agency has officially agreed to go along with it.

Which means Punch Woods is gambling everything on the Food Bank's move to the old Levy's warehouse.

Maybe we should all chip in for a house-warming gift.

Send your check to the Community Food Bank, P.O. Box 26727, Tucson, AZ 85726. Mark it "For food only."

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September 21 - September 27, 1995

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