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Best Local Non-Profit Organization

Casa de los Niños
1101 N. Fourth Ave.

READERS' PICK: For 25 years now, Casa de los Niños has been working to prevent child abuse, and to intervene and treat it when all too frequently it does occur. Casa does this by providing a residential shelter for children, supportive counseling, and community education. And Casa does it well--it was the first crisis nursery in the country, and others nationwide have been modeled after Casa's innovative approach. Casa benefits from dedicated staff and loyal and caring volunteers, who do everything from holding and calming newborn babies to selling clothes at the thrift store Casa de los Niños operates (1302 E. Prince Road). The shelter provides beds for up to 51 children, ranging in ages from a day old to age 8; and Casa also operates several preventative programs. Though child abuse remains a horrible and very real tragedy in our community, Tucson can be proud that Casa de los Niños is there for children, 24 hours a day.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP--TIE: Wingspan, 300 E. Sixth St.

Poverty and homelessness have all but disappeared from the media radar net. You hear more now about Wall Street fluctuations and "empathy fatigue," a Yuppiespeak slogan the Oxford Unabridged defines as, "I need a new Range Rover." All but the most terminally affluenza-infected casualties are acutely aware that with a bad throw of the celestial dice, there but for the grace of the Community Food Bank go we.

The Community Food Bank's Food Box & Salvage Program, 3003 S. Country Club Road, is an invaluable asset to our little pueblo. For many, it's the last bastion of defense against the hopelessness of the street. Services are targeted at ameliorating the most basic and essential of human needs, with no visible dogmatic political agenda topping the menu.

The essential function of the Food Bank is the distribution of food to the needy, the infirm, the elderly, and all who find themselves the proverbial day late and dollar short. Support for the Food Bank comes in the form of cash and food donated by individuals, the government, and local restaurants. Harvests from as close as Third Street and as far as the Mohawk Valley are gleaned for distribution in Tucson.

Services provided include a low-cost co-op, distribution of monthly food boxes, cooking demonstrations, health and nutrition information and job assistance.

An innovative new program in the making is a "one-step" concept primarily aimed at single mothers, whereby access to medical, social and education services are available under one roof. Facilities Director Joy Tucker says that the requests for food boxes have increased dramatically in recent years, as programs like welfare-to-work take their toll. Countering the effects of politically motivated "punish the poor" programs are the heart and soul of the Food Bank's mission.

Holly Reck coordinates the approximately 250 volunteers putting in nearly 3,000 hours monthly. And they're always in need of more.

CLUE IN: Serving people who are print-disabled, Sun Sounds Reading Thru Radio, 7290 E. Broadway Blvd., broadcasts 24 hours a day to folks with special receivers, as well as on some cable television frequencies. What kind of stuff gets read? Pretty much anything you read: the two local daily newspapers are read live every day, along with short stories, plays, magazines, and even the advertising supplements from the newspaper. More than 150 volunteers provide programming for an audience of 10,000, serving the critical function of supplying informative, educational, and entertaining printed information to those who can't read print.

CLUE IN: Native Seeds/SEARCH, 526 N. Fourth Ave., (the acronym stands for Southwest Endangered Arid-Lands Resources Clearinghouse) was founded in Tucson in 1983 as an outgrowth of the federally funded, national Meals for Millions program, which aimed in part to make rural and semi-rural communities nutritionally self-sufficient. When staff workers discovered that few Southwestern Indian reservations had reliable sources of fresh produce, they established an agricultural-extension service to provide farmers with seeds of high-yield, indigenous crops. But, they discovered, after decades of relying on supermarket food shipped in from afar, many Indian communities had lost knowledge of traditional farming methods. And worse, their stock of seeds, carefully selected and guarded by earlier generations, was in serious jeopardy. To remedy this, NS/S sent staff members to remote corners of the desert to recover both agricultural wisdom and such genetic materials as had survived the passing years. To date, NS/S members have recovered nearly 1,000 varieties of some 40 food plants that formed the basis of Southwestern Indian cuisine before the arrival of the Europeans. You can grow many of these crops yourself (a seed catalog is available for $1), and you can tour the NS/S demonstration garden at the Tucson Botanical Gardens (2150 N. Alvernon Way).

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