It’s a race to the finish line to end hunger in the Tucson area.

That’s why the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona is teaming up with StartLine Racing for the Spring Cleaning Run on Saturday, March 27. All participants are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items.

The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona is a non-profit with five resource center locations across Southern Arizona, including Marana. They provide emergency food assistance to families, seniors and veterans.

It is with the support of local partners like StartLine that the food bank has been able to keep their doors open since the start of the pandemic.

“Things spiked right after the virus hit,” said Nora Cable, Public Relations and Marketing Specialist with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. “That was when people sometimes could not find food at the grocery store. We are just incredibly grateful to the community because it’s only with their support we have not run out of food.”

For all those who donate, StartLine Racing will provide a T-shirt, finisher’s medal from a previous event and a $5 off coupon for any future StartLine race. Participants must wear masks and social distance for the 5K or 10K run. Participants in the Virtual Run can opt to donate to the food bank online.

The coronavirus pandemic created challenges for the food bank in finding safe ways to interact with the community. Many traditional in-person events became too dangerous to hold. The food bank had to adjust almost all its normal operating procedures.

“When COVID first started, we knew we had to pivot in our method of distribution to keep people safe,” said Cable. “Instead of coming inside, we offered people the option to drive through and pick up food. We set up our parking lot and other resource centers for people to pick up food with low contact, or zero touch to keep things safe.”

At the pandemic onset volunteers could not come in due to safety. Around 60 National Guard members were deployed to assist in packing food and running the distribution lines. According to Cable, the food bank, and its partners, served 200,000 people the first six months of the pandemic. That is the normal number of people helped throughout a standard calendar year. 75 million pounds of food was distributed between March and December of 2020.

Volunteers have started to return with precautions in place. An average of 30 National Guard members remain to continue assisting with operations. Cable says the food bank is in uncharted territory with how many people they anticipate helping this year. But food donations have been steadily coming in and everyone in need has been assisted.

The Marana Community Food Bank has served the local area since the 1950s. Due to the pandemic, virtual food drives are encouraged if people cannot drop donations at the Spring Cleaning Run. The address is 11734 West Grier Road with food distribution hours varying from Tuesday to Friday, and the second Saturday of each month. There are also additional assistance programs available to include SNAP and referral services along with education and training. More information on specific hours can be found on the food bank’s website.

“We just have been so grateful for the community response and everyone working together to recognize how important food is and that it is a basic human right,” Cable said. “People have been donating not just non-perishable items, but also produce and other healthy food. We serve a lot of children, seniors and those with diet restrictions and the food bank could not continue to do that without the help of others.”

The Spring Cleaning Run starts at 7 a.m. on Saturday, March 27, and is at Rillito Park in Tucson. For more information check out www.communityfoodbank.org.

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