By ALONDRA OLIVAS
Kyle Stephens walks to class at Pima Community College wearing a backpack, glasses and hat –the uniform of a typical college student.
Like a superhero in citizen’s clothing, however, Stephens is far from typical.
Taking a close look at his outfit, you’ll spot clues to his passion. The shirt he wears features a giant “Batman” logo. He has pinned a “Star Trek” symbol on his backpack.
Looking away from his apparel, you notice his tattoos.
On his left arm is the symbol of his “all-time favorite superhero,” the Green Lantern, familiar to those who saw the movie released over the summer. Covering the rest of his arm are symbols for other “Lantern Corps,” recognizable to readers of the comics.
The inside of his right wrist has a triangular design with the words, “Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted,” a quote from the video game “Assassin’s Creed.”
“I’m a geek by trade and a nerd by choice,” Stephens said with a smile.
But he is more than just a video game and comic book buff. As the creative director for Tucson’s Evil Robo Productions, he is the man behind the stories.
Stephens grew up in North Shore, Boston, where his interest in comic books began. By age 8, he had already started his own collection.
He took an interest in writing, mainly short stories and poetry. He published work in New England, including two short stories in the Eagle Tribune and the Haverhill Gazette.
In June 2008, he moved to Tucson with his family and began classes at Pima in Fall ‘09.
It was around that time that he met the head of Evil Robo, Eric Schock, during a sneak preview of the movie “Watchmen.” Stephens noticed Schock drawing, and approached him about his art. They began talking and Stephens soon jumped aboard the Evil Robo train.
As creative director, Stephens’ jobs include hiring new talent, reviewing art portfolios, handling public relations for distributions, overseeing digital distributions and firing people.
Stephen’s best friend, self-proclaimed “Robo Girl” Katie Stahr, has been his sidekick for the past three years.
“He is an all-around great guy, completely weird but it works,” Stahr said, laughing.
Working both with the company and on his own, Stephens has had a few adventures.
He has met George Lucas, the creator of “Star Wars,” and Stan Lee, the co-creator of “Spider-Man,” “the X-Men” and “Iron Man,” among others. After running into each other at conventions, Stephens and Lee formed a friendship and communicate via email.
Although meeting two legends of the geek community provide good memories for Stephens, they’re not his favorite.
While signing autographs in Phoenix, actor Adam Baldwin (of “Chuck” and “Firefly” fame) stopped by specifically to express support for Stephens’ work.
“It was awesome!,” Stephens said of meeting his favorite actor.
Stephens is currently studying creative writing but hasn’t decided whether he will transfer to a university. For now, he is consumed with Evil Robo and his own work.
He spent months preparing for the release of his first book, a pulp-style zombie comic called “Trapped in Decay.” On Nov. 5, it hit shelves in all comic book stores in Tucson and in some stores in Phoenix, Seattle, New York and Portland.
The book made its debut at the Tucson Comic Convention, where it quickly sold out. His approach on zombies takes a different perspective than others, but still contains the flesh-eating gore that continues to intrigue.
Stephens’ experience and hard work took him from writing poetry to publishing a book in just three years.
“The comic book industry is based off of who you know, what you’ve done and your portfolio,” Stephens said.
It seems Stephens has been doing it right so far.
To lose is a part of life. It’s a way to test how you carry on without.
It’s an annoyance when the loss is trivial, like with a favorite pen. It’s painful when you lose a loved one, whether into the afterlife or simply out of your life.
But nothing alters one’s foundation as much as the loss of a loved one you never let exist.
I moved to Tucson after graduating from high school in 2006, enrolling at the University of Arizona as a creative writing major.
My high-school sweetheart went north for college, a decision she made long before we began dating.
We rarely saw each other, but spoke often by phone and the Web. When we were together, we hardly left each other’s sight, leaving each other only to visit the families we left behind.
Of course, we snuck out at night, stealing away to the desert or into each other’s homes to feel the warmth that’s a part of young, stupid, careless love.
Months into 2007, she began talking about odd symptoms. Aches. Swelling. Fatigue. Nausea.
Then one day, as I stood at the corner of Park Avenue and Second Street, my phone rang.
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
It’s an odd sensation, getting a call that changes your life. Your heart stops. You finally understand what it means to say that your head is swimming as you lose all feeling below your neck.
You later realize that the only reason you’re still standing is because your legs decided to act independently of your brain.
We were 19 years old. We were too young, too scared and too stupid to know what to do next. All we knew was that we couldn’t tell anyone.
For weeks, we agonized over our future, our options. I kept everything inside, shambling around campus in a daze. She struggled with her changing body and the isolation of pregnancy without loved ones nearby.
Winter was becoming spring. Reluctantly, we made our decision.
We met back home and stayed at my parents’ house. They had decided to leave for the weekend, giving us privacy they had no idea we needed.
From there, my memories blur. The drive to a clinic fades into protesters waving signs on the corner. Squeezing her hand before she left the waiting room becomes nauseating silence.
But burned into my mind is the trauma in her eyes on her return, dulled by shock and medication.
I don’t know how we got back in one piece.
Once we did, neither of us could stop crying. We agonized over our choice and made the mistake of discussing a future for a little girl who would never be, even naming her.
After that, I could never speak of it again. Instead I curled up, choosing to suffer in silence. I didn’t realize I was destroying the person I loved. Not talking about the loss only caused more pain.
Through some miracle, we stayed together for two more years. In that time, she decided to move to Tucson, to share an apartment and, ultimately, to leave when her feelings for me could no longer bear the weight she felt she carried alone.
During our first year together in Tucson, we topped our Christmas tree with a teddy bear from a Happy Meal. I decided that bear would be our angel, a memory of the girl we never had.
When my now-ex left, the bear stayed with me.
To this day, I keep that little toy in plain sight as a symbol of love, of loss and of life.
Not only of the life I constantly mourn, but of the one that I must make worthy to honor the memory of a child that never was.
To lose is part of life. It’s how you carry on without, that’s the test.
By MEGYN FITZGERALD
Pima Community College’s men’s basketball team broke a two-game losing streak on Wednesday, Dec. 7. Pima had four players score double-digit points in the home game against Tohono O’Odahm CC.
Freshman guard Javont Byrd led all scorers with 39 points. Freshman forward Charles Croxen scored 10 points while sophomore forward Shabaz Lewis and freshman guard Domineik Banks both put in 16 points in the 107-83 win.
PCC was unable to defeat Central Arizona College on Dec. 3.
The 108-76 conference loss brought the men’s record to 2-6 on the season and 1-3 in conference play.
Aztec freshman guard Rodney Clark continued to lead the way in scoring for Pima with 26 points in the road loss.
Sophomore guard Chad Arechiga helped out by contributing 12 additional points. Byrd and Lewis chipped in 10 points each in the game.
On Nov. 30, Pima played without head coach Gabriel Van Guse, who was serving a suspension for committing two technical fouls in their previous game. Assistant coach Chris Klassen filled in for Van Guse in the home game against Phoenix College.
Arechiga led the way for Pima as he managed 19 points in the 78-66 loss.
Eight games into the season, the Aztec’s scoring leader is Clark, who is averaging 14.25 points per game. Clark does most of his damage from beyond the three-point arc, knocking down 26 three-pointers this season.
Clark’s 114 points are tops on the team but teammate Byrd is not far behind, averaging 12 points per game with 96 on the year.
Freshman guard Emery Range is leading the team in rebounding with a 4.6 per game average.Range also leads the team with five blocks this season.
Banks is leading the team with 22 assists, averaging just under three per game. The freshman guard is also contributing on defense, with a team-leading 16 steals this year.
Dec. 9: @ Sells vs. Salt Lake City CC, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 10: vs. Mesa CC, 4 p.m.
Dec. 16: vs. New Mexico Junior College, 7 p.m.
By ASTRID VERDUGO
Since 1995, tens of thousands of people on six continents have used the World Café method at different venues.
At Pima Community College, Downtown Campus recently held its first Conversations Café as a process that continued for consecutive weeks.
Although Downtown Campus hosted its first official “Conversations Café,” an exercise that’s constantly practiced by all walks of life, particularly among college students, every seat was taken and every table overflowed with participants.
The environment was perfectly set at the Downtown Campus patio to depict the setting of a café, which created a hospitable space that evoked a feeling of informality and intimacy – one that allowed for people to feel comfortable to ignite their most creative thinking, speaking and listening.
Each table was led by a host who engaged the participants in topics important to the general public, such as “What does going green mean to me?”
I personally took part in a 20-minute, strategized World Café experience. Five individuals, including myself, sat at a table meant for four.
The table that I sat with represented a diverse group of students that included a range of ages, backgrounds and ethnicities, giving different perspectives on what “going green” meant to each of us.
We shared different approaches toward preserving Earth but we all consented the common belief that “going green” would further the longevity of our planet.
Between the five strangers there, we decided that going back to basics might be a potential solution for the problem.
Milk bottles delivered in glass and not plastic. Diapers made of cloth instead of the modern-day, impossible-to-destroy disposables. Different solutions for automobiles, paper, deforestation and solar energy abounded.
We also discussed how big cities in the United States would never adopt the tradeoff of odds-and-evens car plates commuting in the city, an action imposed on citizens in Mexico City to alternate between driving and taking the subway every other day.
We all expressed deep sympathy for the generations to come and how our actions today and neglect towards our environment will harm our kids, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A tiny ball stood as a podium where we all had the chance to express our sentiments on the topic. A large piece of butcher paper was used as a place mat to jot down ideas, thoughts and notes.
Our commitment to democracy is being exercised through events such as the World Café.
By APRIL GEORGE
It’s that time of year again. As people recover from their turkey comas, we tally the Black Friday damages, both to our wallets and to our bodies, and then look to the next holiday.
The lights go up, kids start getting out of school and the smell of pine trees and gingerbread fills the air. It’s “peace on earth and goodwill to men” for the next three weeks.
At least, that’s the idea. Unfortunately, it seems that goodwill towards men stops at an idea.
People get a lot more crazy and violent at Christmastime. Shoppers go completely nuts trying to buy little Timmy that last Zsu-Zsu Pet. You know, those little hamster things? I could have the name wrong.
I kind of developed a hatred for them a couple of years ago, after a seasonal job at Toys ‘R Us. They were the “hot toy” that year, we were always sold out and people acted like cavemen trying to get their hands on one.
Ahem. Sorry, I get carried away thinking about those things. Where was I? Right.
Christmas is supposed to be about joy and love. When did it become about nearly killing each other at the mall over a Barbie doll? What exactly makes it OK to pepper spray someone on Black Friday just to get a TV?
I love a sale as much as the next person, but why are the holidays more about money and less about family?
When I was younger, half the fun of Christmas was spending time with my family. Now that I’m older, it’s still more fun to be with family than to worry about how much money Grandma spent on my presents.
When I pick out presents for younger family members, in this case my girlfriend’s siblings, I do keep price in mind. However, I prefer to think of their faces lighting up when they see what I gave them.
That’s the most satisfying part of Christmas shopping, not calculating how much money I saved by shopping at Walmart over Target.
Let’s go back to those holiday values: family, friends, goodwill and love. Forget about the shopping and just take time to be with those you love. Tell them how much they mean to you, because you never known when it might be your last holiday with them.
George plans to spend her holidays with her family and girlfriend. They mean the world to her and she tries to tell them daily.
By RYAN TSARSIS
Every holiday season, each Christmas-celebrating family chooses whether to buy a real Christmas tree or take the plastic one out of the garage. My philosophy: Go real or go home.
Fake Christmas trees fly off the shelves of major retail stores every year. What flies into the air are carcinogens polluting the air of neighborhoods located near the factories that manufacture these products.
Fake trees are made with polyvinyl chloride, one of the most offensive forms of non-renewable, petroleum-derived plastic. These “trees” ironically cause exponentially more harm to the environment than cutting down real trees to put in our homes for Christmas.
PVC, which is also used for a slew of other plastic products including shower curtains, has been studied extensively. One study found that one PVC shower curtain can release as many as 108 volatile organic chemicals into the air.
Some of these chemicals can cause developmental damage, as well as damage to the liver and central nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems.
Those of us with real Christmas trees know the value of having a live tree.
The anticipation of choosing the tree, bringing the tree home, setting it in your home, watering it and getting the fresh scent dispersed in your home shines in comparison to de-boxing the giant cancer tree.
If buying a fake tree is your only option because of allergies, explore your options and make sure the tree you select is not made of PVC.
Many fake tree owners use plastic trees because of their ease of use and reuse. But they’re wrong if they think that they are actually saving real trees by purchasing fake ones.
For those of you out there who are “tree huggers,” the best eco-friendly way to enjoy a Christmas tree is to buy one with its roots intact and replant it outdoors within a week.
Tsarsis is a real Christmas tree user for life and an aspiring journalist who specializes in fantasy sports analysis.
By JOEL GANTT
The Pima Community College women’s basketball team earned head coach Todd Holthaus career win number 100 when the Aztecs secured a 21-point victory over Phoenix College.
The Aztecs have made three consecutive trips to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national tournament under Holthaus, including an appearance in the championship game last season.
“We can’t sneak up on teams any more,” Holthaus said. “We have a bulls-eye on our back now.”
Holthaus is 100-43 in his career as coach of the Pima Aztecs. He attributes Pima’s recent success to his assistants and recruiting athletes from all over Arizona to play for him.
“I can’t take all the credit,” Holthaus said. “I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded with great coaches.”
Point guard and team captain Naderra Carey has played under Holthaus for two and a half seasons after red-shirting in her first season with Pima.
“He gets the most out of us players,” Carey said. “He is the best coach that I have ever had.”
The Aztecs were in action on Saturday, Dec. 3, when they took a three-game winning streak on the road to face Central Arizona College.
Freshman point guard Ashlei Scott led the offense for the Aztecs with 11 points and three assists. Freshman center A’jha Edwards led the team with 11 rebounds to go along with her four points.
Sophomore guard Briaunna Guthrie, sophomore forward Tyahnna Higgs and freshman guard Ebonee Rhymes each scored eight points on the night as Pima lost its first conference game of the season 73-60.
Win number 100 came for Holthaus on Wednesday, Nov. 30, when PCC hosted the Phoenix College Bears.
Pima was led in scoring by freshman forward Desiree’ Phillips, who took advantage of turnovers and solid baseline shooting to score 18 points. Edwards put in her third double-double of the year with 10 points and 12 rebounds in the 88-67 win.
PCC is 4-4 this season, with a 3-1 conference record. The next test will come Saturday, Dec. 10, when Pima hosts No. 8-ranked Mesa Community College at 2 p.m. in the West Campus gym.
Dec. 10: vs. Mesa CC, 2 p.m.
Dec. 14: vs. LSU Eunice, 6:30 p.m.
Bruce Fleck Classic Tournament hosted by Pima:
Dec. 28: vs. Malcom X College, 6 p.m.
Dec. 29: vs. Snow College, 6 p.m.
Dec. 30: vs. Dawson CC, 4 p.m.
Jan. 4: @ Cochise College, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 7: @ South Mountain CC, 2 p.m.
Jan. 9: vs. South Plains College, 4 p.m.
Jan. 11: vs. Eastern Arizona College, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 14: vs. Glendale CC, 2 p.m.
Jan. 18: @ Arizona Western College, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 21: @ Chandler-Gilbert CC, 2 p.m.
Jan. 25: vs. Scottsdale CC, 5:30 p.m.
All home games are in the West Campus gymnasium.
By LaBREAL YOUNG
After 149 days, National Basketball Association owners and players made a deal.
Of course the argument was over money, causing the season to postpone and forcing fans to watch the next most entertaining sport, football.
The owners got their way, after claiming they lost $300 million last season. Now owners and players will split profits 50/50. This way, the owners will have a chance to make back every cent of those losses.
The players also get some of these winnings and won on issues like minimum team salary and escrow.
A 66-game season will begin on Christmas Day, giving NBA fans the best gift they could ask for.
Games will be scheduled more frequently, often back to back. This should be nice for younger teams like the Thunder. Older teams like the Spurs or Lakers might not be able to keep up.
Anything to prevent the Lakers from getting that ring, I am OK with.
To put the icing on the cake, we’ll be able to watch the University of Arizona’s very own Derrick Williams ball in the big league with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Most importantly, though, the highly anticipated annual All-Star game will still follow through as planned. It will be held on Feb. 26, 2012.
It took awhile but, hey, the NBA’s back!
By CHELO GRUBB
Pima Community College gave nearly $270,000 in federal aid to 71 scammers who posed as online students from Mississippi.
Community campus assessment and testing staff were the first to notice the odd behavior surrounding the scammers.
“They deserve a lot of credit,” PCC spokesman C.J. Karamargin said.
The federal government screens Pell grant applicants, to make sure their information seems legitimate. All of the scammers, known as Pell Runners, provided real social security numbers and addresses of foreclosed homes on their applications.
Beyond running the information through databases, the government runs spot checks to verify the applications.
None of the PCC scammers were spot-checked.
Karamargin said the Pell Runners were from one area of Mississippi. They behaved strangely and aggresssively on the phone, and were vague about past college experience. They also passed the phone around to handle multiple applications at a time.
The Pell Runners also did poorly on their assessment tests, taking as little as 15 minutes on the test, which takes some students 90 minutes.
PCC’s new admission policy, which will require students to test into courses, may prevent future scams. Students who don’t score high enough will be placed in a 10-week remedial education program, which is not eligible for financial aid.
“The new admissions policy will be an added hurdle,” Karamargin said.
PCC is one of more than 100 schools nationwide reporting cases in which people posing as long-distance online students took Pell grants without actually participating in any classes.
Karamargin said PCC now has a “considerably heightened awareness” of how the fraud rings work, and will be “significantly more vigilant in our review.”
Pima hopes to recover the lost money, and is working to verify all Pell grant applications.
“The college will put every legal effort into attempting to recover all the funds,” Karamargin said. “Students in legitimate need will not be hurt.”
By DEBBIE HADLEY
“Beyond” was created as a way for Tucson locals to post events remembering the Jan. 8 shootings and its victims.
On Jan. 7, dozens of organzations like Tucson Medical Center and Pima Community College will host festivals and health fairs. Other events listed on the Beyond website center around running, walking or biking both in nature and around Tucson.
PCC’s Festival of Democracy will be held at West Campus on Jan. 7 from 8 a.m. to noon. Volunteers are needed, and should email Christy Yebra at email@example.com.
The Festival of Democracy includes Run for Office races, a fun run and a “Constitution Corner,” where particpants read passages from the well-known government document.
Attendees will have the opportunity to register to vote and paint a tile in remembrance of Jan. 8. For more information, visit www.beyond-tucson.org.
Other ‘Beyond’ events set for Jan. 7:
Beyond Festival, Reid Park
10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
22nd Street and
8:30 to 11 a.m.
Marsh Station Road, Vail
Stroll & Roll
8:30 to 11 a.m.
Memorial River Park
North Shannon Road and
West Magee Road
Kino Stadium Closing Ceremony
4 to 8 p.m.
Kino Stadium, 2500 E. Ajo Way
By MEGYN FITZGERALD
Number of shoppers over “Black Friday” weekend in 2011.
Number of shoppers over “Black Friday” weekend in 2010.
Average spending per “Black Friday” shopper in 2011.
Average spending per “Black Friday” shopper in 2010.
Estimated “Black Friday” total spending in 2011.
Total “Black Friday” spending in 2010.
Percentage of holiday shoppers who plan on using their smart phone to shop.
Percentage of 2011 consumers who would like to receive clothing as a gift.
The cost of all items from the “Twelve Days of Christmas” in 2011 – the first year the cost surpassed $100,000.
Source: Christmas Price Index
The cost of all items from the “Twelve Days of Christmas” in 2010.
The average amount holiday shoppers spent on themselves in 2010.
Additional workers hired for the holiday shopping season in 2009.
Estimated number of malls in the United States.
By AMY ZAMBRANO
After being swept last year in the semi-finals by Central Arizona College, the Pima Community College baseball team is preparing to return strong for spring ball in 2012.
The team ended last season with a 29-27 record.
Assistant coach Ernesto Durazo called last year’s season a learning experience for both players and a new coaching staff.
“Even for the returners last year, we didn’t know much about them as players,” Durazo said.
The team will prepare during the winter break to initiate the 2012 season on a positive note.
Durazo’s goal is for the athletes to be mentally prepared for any situation.
“This year we want the players to improve their baseball IQ and just learn more about baseball,” he said. “It’s very important for the team to work hard. We want to embed good attitude and hard work in order to be successful.”
Four pitchers seem likely to be key players: freshmen Julio Felix, Juan Vega and Garrett Taggart, and a North Carolina State University transfer, Jake Cole.
“We are definitely stronger this year,” Durazo said. “I know we will have a good season.”
For now, the team is working on compiling good grades and practicing in the morning three times a week.
The Aztecs will play their first game of the 2012 season on Jan. 27.
Jan. 27- 28: @ Paradise Valley CC
Feb. 2- 3: Tournament in Las Vegas, NV
By D.J. ARIZMENDI
I’ve got a list, and I am checking it twice. With it you will know which games this year were naughty or nice.
Santa’s pick: “Uncharted 3”
2011 was the year of the three-quel. You had “Modern Warfare 3,” “Gears of War 3” and “Killzone 3.” Of the three, the nicests came from developer Naughty Dog in the form of “Uncharted 3.” Proving the third time’s the charm, U3 leads the three-quel herd with finesse by setting a new standard for game presentation.
Elves’ picks: “inFAMOUS 2,” “No More Heroes: Heroes Paradise” and “God of War: Origins Collection”
Santa’s pick: “Gears of War 3”
While “Gears of War 3” is an amazing game, it wins almost by default. With Microsoft’s exclusive lineup being so thin, GOW 3 does what it must to bulk up the slim pickings. Even though it follows a strict “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, it still has enough variety in the narrative to motivate players to reach the closure-centric ending.
Elves’ picks: “Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary,” “Dance Central 2” and “The Gunstringer”
Santa’s pick: “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword”
No surprise here. The Wii has had a tough year, with declining console and game sales. Link saves the system from complete destruction.
Elves’ pick: Buying another copy of “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword”
Santa’s pick: “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”
Selling about half of what the newest “Call of Duty” did, “Skyrim” shows the world that nerdism is not dead and stats matter. Fixing most of the problems “Oblivion” had, “Skyrim” shows how well an open-ended RPG can work and should keep you entertained until the apocalypse of 2012.
Elves’ picks: “CathErine,” “Portal 2,” “Saints Row: The Third,” “Dead Space 2” and “Deus Ex: Human Revolution”
Pick for the fireplace: “DC Universe Online”
This year was probably Sony’s strongest yet, but there’s always one brat who ruins it for everyone. That little imp is “DC Universe Online.” Launching with horrible gameplay glitches and weak mechanics, DCUO had no chance of surviving in the current market of MMOs. The game is still on life support and has become so desperate for players that you can now download the full game for free.
Other disappointments: “Killzone 3” and “Tekken Hybrid”
Pick for the fireplace: “Fruit Ninja Kinect”
For a game that is free on Android and a dollar on iPhone, I can’t justify the $10 price tag on this port. “Fruit Ninja Kinect” is the prime example of why digitally distributed games are not ready to become the new standard format for consoles, thanks to ridiculous prices. Also, the Kinect controls don’t hold a candle to its phone-friendly counterparts.
Other disappointments: “Carnival Games: Monkey See, Monkey Do” and “Rise of Nightmares”
Pick for the fireplace: “101-in-1 Sports Party Megamix”
Publisher Atlus must have really needed a paycheck. I can’t find one reason why anyone should be subjected to this shovelware unless they have committed crimes against humanity. A warning to all you mothers out there: Seeing this game in the bargain bin does not make it a good deal. Spend the extra five bucks and buy your loved ones a giant Hershey bar.
Other disappointments: “Just Dance 3,” “Conduit 2” and “Mario Sports Mix.”
Pick for the fireplace: “Call of Juarez: The Cartel”
If someone translated one of those low-budget Mexican-made action films, they would create something very similar to “Call of Juarez: the Cartel.” Not only is this probably the worse shooter of the year, this might be one of the worst products ever released to the public for $60.
Other disappointments: “Dragon Age II,” “Rage,” “Brink” and “Homefront”
By NINA ELLIOTT
Many government programs designed to help those in need are getting cut, even though thousands of Americans are unemployed and unemployment benefit filings are at a nationwide high.
Increasing criteria for meeting poverty status impedes many jobless or part-time workers from receiving Department of Economic Security benefits.
Having to resort to a food box is a pride-swallowing experience for many newly poor people but that is not the real tragedy. Federal USDA food allotments are down by 60 percent, and this year it means no turkeys or hams were given away for holiday meals.
Community Food Bank representative Andres Valenzuela recently spoke to a West Campus nutritional biology class. Instructor Maureen Cunningham assigned her students to use previous lectures to create nutritionally dense meals based on the contents of a food box.
Valenzuela explained the face of poverty has changed the working poor.
“People who used to donate now feel shame to need food boxes,” she said, “although, most of our clients have been repeat customers for the last three years.”
The Food Bank in Tucson serves from eight different distribution locations and operates seven days a week. Even on Sundays, at least a bagged sandwich is available. Last year the group put out 15,000 boxes, but this year it increased to 25,000 boxes.
Because of the increased need, volunteer hours have increased 10 percent a month. In addition to paid employees, roughly 100,000 volunteer hours are needed to keep locations running.
Valenzuela explained that their network includes a professional chef who works with PCC and its culinary program. The Food Bank also works with the Family Resource Center, Community Supported Agriculture, farmer’s markets and community gardens.
The Food Bank seeks people with degrees in plant science, especially experts specializing in worms and irrigation.
Volunteers provide advice geared toward teaching children and adults to produce their own food with home gardening, enabling them to sell their own produce through a consignment program and make a profit from food they make.
“That’s the future,” Valenzuela said. “We want to provide food for people and for people to provide food from themselves… that’s going to be the way to end hunger.”
Families are only allowed one food box per month. The head of the family needs a picture ID and proof of residence. A type of card is swiped to keep track of people who try to take unfair advantage.
Soup kitchens are different.
“I think what’s really good about the soup kitchens is that they don’t ask questions,” Valenzuela said. “You have people completely homeless next to the working poor.”
Soup kitchens run out of food but the food box program does not. Some areas stay open late at night with the help of volunteers and employees. Certain items in the boxes are depleted but never entire boxes.
Valenzuela recalled one distribution location that “served 600 boxes on a Tuesday.”
The Food Bank serves healthy foods whenever possible, Valenzuela said.
“We’re moving towards education, ways to provide healthy alternatives to fast food,” she said.
Volunteers everywhere can be used, particularly nutrition students at the University of Arizona and PCC.
The organizations need help with food safety and sorting good produce from bad produce.
“There is something for everyone, sorting, working with clients, packing, working on the farm, and events,” Valenzuela said.
The Community Food Bank gets rice and beans from government surplus bought at lower prices, plus larger donations from Kellogg’s and Pepsi and smaller donations from individuals.
As a policy, it doesn’t give out sugary or fattening foods. Vegetable availability changes but corn and carrots are usually available.
A good source of protein must be put in every box. An example is peanut butter, which is the most expensive item the food bank has to buy. Macaroni and cheese is another staple in a food box. Soups are always donated. Stores like Safeway, Walmart and Fry’s donate bread.
Because of Arizona’ proximity to Mexico, the food bank gets a range of produce such as kale, rutabagas, lima beans, turnips, radishes and squash. Poundage determines the amount given out.
Produce is also distributed to the soup kitchens from the main distribution center.
“There is a struggle between nutrition versus calorie dense food,” Valenzuela said. “There is a diversity of people in need and their cooking styles. Coming up with recipes for them to use the foods provided is difficult.”
Many vegetables are re-donated because people getting the boxes don’t know how to cook with them.
This is where the Biology 127 class comes in—Cunningham’s students researched recipes to configure the foods in nutritious ways based on a semester of lectures and labwork.
Coursework for nutritional biology included required reading from Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food.” Cunningham began the first day of instruction by having her students plant seeds in potted soil at a West Campus greenhouse for hands-on nutrition.
Some of the seeds have taken root, sprouted and are now growing leafy greens. This approach to understanding biology, food, nutrition, nutritional studies and community outreach is edifying education.
For more information and to volunteer, visit:
Community Food Bank: communityfoodbank.org
Emergency Food Assistance Program: feedingamerica.org
Tucson Community Supported Agriculture: tucsoncsa.org
Community Gardens of Tucson: communitygardensoftucson.org