More than 2,000 residents of the Verde Villages, the Verde Valley’s largest community, live in poverty. With that poverty comes food insecurity.
Mike Newcomb, a former Amazon.com executive and wholesale food distributor, founded Manzanita Outreach in 2011 to address the gaps between food distribution services in communities like the Verde Villages.
Newcomb now acts as executive director of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
“Our intention is to figure it out in the Verde Valley and then extend [services out] to Northern Arizona,” Newcomb said. “We are blessed with several emergency food providers in the Verde Valley and they all do great work. Unfortunately, when you look at the Verde Valley as a whole, there are gaps in the total supply of emergency food and many of our residents are missed or forgotten. Filling those gaps is the focus of our organization.”
Newcomb analyzed where the greatest need lies in the USDA Economic Research Service-designated “food desert” between Cottonwood and Camp Verde. Specifically, he was looking for a place for a pop-up pantry to provide food for those in greatest need. Newcomb stopped by Verde Valley Manor Retirement Center, central Arizona’s first federally funded housing development founded in 1976, and pegged it as a community in definite need of food assistance.
“The process begins with Manzanita Outreach identifying an area in which a significant number of people are food insecure and/or struggle to get food from another emergency food provider,” Newcomb said. “[Verde Valley Manor] has been so overlooked. Sure, some get Meals on Wheels, but that’s not enough to get by.”
Sept. 19 is only the first of many pop-up pantries Newcomb intends to establish in the Verde Villages, where no food bank or pantry exists. In November, he will again make his way to a location in the community, still to be determined, and set up shop, hoping to distribute as much food as possible.
“The Verde Villages are among Arizona’s many food deserts where a significant number of people are low-income, don’t have ready access to healthy food and may have limited or no access to a vehicle,” Newcomb said, adding that a collaboration with St. Mary’s has made access to the nearly 17 percent of the population that lives below the poverty line less of a challenge.
“[St. Mary’s food distributors] have a hard time getting into a lot of rural areas, because they drive semis,” Newcomb said. “We said, ‘We’ll be the hands’ .... They bring the food. We bring the volunteers. I’m kind of a logistics geek. I’ve got this passion [to] collaborate with other emergency food providers to fill in the gaps.
“Basically, we pop up tables and/or tents, fill them with food and feed the hungry.”
Newcomb said he is hoping to set up another pop-up pantry program in the Rimrock area, where another large food desert exists.
Those interested in volunteering at one of the food pantries may visit manzanitaoutreach.org or send an email to info@manzanita<br< a=""> />outreach.org.