In her last public appearance in District 8, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords toured the Southern Arizona Community Food Bank on Jan. 23, making her first stop at the newly- built Gabrielle Giffords Family Assistance Center.

Giffords’ decision to step down from office came early on Sunday. In a video message to her constituents, Giffords said, “I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week.”

Prior to visiting the assistance center, Giffords finished the Congress on Your Corner event she began last Jan. 8 before the shooting occurred. In a private meeting on Monday morning, Giffords met with several people who attended the event, including some who aided the wounded, and subdued the gunman.

Following the shooting, members of the Tucson community came together to donate more than $325,000 to create the family assistance center, which aims to create a seamless process for helping families in need of food and medical assistance. 

Bill Carnegie, CEO of the Community Food Bank, took a moment to recognize Giffords for her continuous involvement with providing food assistance to the public.

“Gabby has a long relationship with the Community Food Bank,” he said. “She has donated to us for years. She’s been involved with us the entire time she has been in Congress. We deeply appreciate the relationship, and we are so honored to have the center named after her.”

Giffords arrived to an eruptive applause from the crowd.

After speaking with several board members of the Food Bank, Giffords stepped foot into the new assistance center for the first time. With a smile on her face, Giffords browsed the 1,200 square-foot assistance center, made up of two offices, four cubicles, and a waiting area, which were all created in her name.

Since opening on Sept. 23, the center has worked closely with families to accept applications for food stamps, cash assistance, and medical assistance. In the last three months of 2011, the amount of assistance applications processed were up 73 percent in comparison to the same period the year before.

“It’s a collaboration that makes us feel good that our values and hers are coinciding, and that we could be here today as the place that she comes and says goodbye to her community. We are pleased and honored that this is the outcome of a horrible event,” said Fran McNeely, chair of the Community Food Bank Board of Directors.

In the past, Giffords has referred to the Community Food Bank as one of her favorite charities. Consequentially, Carnegie said he felt the need to do something special with the donations coming in on her behalf.

“If we were to spend it all on food, it would have been gone in a day,” he said. “People may have had more to eat, but we wouldn’t have anything left, so we came up with the idea of developing this center.”

While touring the facility, Giffords had the opportunity to meet 19-year-old Aviry Christy, one of the people who has received assistance from the food bank.

“I got amazing support. I wasn’t judged on any particular financial situation or my past, and I really was connected to a lot of different benefits that I didn’t know were available,” he said. “It’s been a fabulous experience overall.”

After completing her visit to the assistance center, Giffords toured the rest of the Food Bank with a private group before leaving the facility around 1 p.m.

Carnegie took a moment to speak about the future of the Food Bank in regards to Giffords’ undetermined replacement.

“We are hopeful that whoever steps into those shoes, which are huge shoes, will continue the work that she has started here with the same compassion and consideration for the people in need in our community,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing that she gets to come here and see  this center that we built for her, but it’s also her exit from Congress. It’s a bittersweet day.”

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