Amy Holzgrafe knew she wanted to spend her retirement giving back to the Tucson community. With Arizona being ranked 14th in the US for childhood food insecurity, she knew where she wanted to dedicate her time. For more than a decade, she has volunteered with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona (CFB).
“In 11 years, I've come across everybody,” says Holzgrafe. “I've come across people who literally will cry in your arms, because they haven't seen this much food in a long time.”
Food insecurity has been a long-standing problem in Arizona. According to a report released in 2022 by Feeding America, one in nine Arizonans faces food insecurity, with children accounting for one-third of that number. Food banks across the country served 55 percent more people in 2021 than before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Feeding America.
Norma Cable, public relations and marketing specialist with Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, said the need for food assistance for Arizonans continues to be urgent this summer.
“When we look at what's happening all over, we see inflation, we see housing struggles, a lack of affordable housing, rents going up, we see all kinds, and the pandemic that still has not ended for sure,” Cable says, adding that these factors merge to put vulnerable people even more at risk of food insecurity. “We are here to help whoever needs that help.”
CFB is part of the Arizona Food Bank Network (AzFBN), a coalition of five regional food banks and nearly 1,000 pantries that combine resources in order to better fight food insecurity in Arizona.
“They have helped us a lot in this, whether with rice, beans, you know, corn, only milk, bread… it is basic, but it is something that helps our family,” says Elena Villegas Molina, an Arizona mother who relies on CFB.
Many grocery stores donate bread and other perishable food items to AzFBN and its partners, but collecting all the donations from grocery stores across the state and delivering them to banks while the food is still fresh can present a challenge.
“Transportation is so key to what we do and without the proper transportation, we can't get the food to where we need it to go: to the families that need it in southern Arizona,” Cable explains.
Transportation is so key to what we do and without the proper transportation, we can't get the food to where we need it to go: to the families that need it in southern Arizona.
Jerry Brown, director of PR at St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, another member of the AzFBN coalition, emphasizes that transportation is central to the food bank’s mission, serving about two-thirds of the state of Arizona. That work requires 40 to 45 trucks – from small delivery trucks to 18-wheelers – that criss-cross Arizona, dropping off food and rescuing donations from about 400 different grocery stores. At the end of the year, they will have put nearly 1 million miles on their odometers.
“We try to turn that food around and get it to people who need it as quickly as possible,” Brown explains.
In an effort to bring greater efficiency to food banks’ mammoth food pick-up and drop-off mission, AzFBN is partnering with Waymo’s autonomous trucking and delivery unit, Waymo Via. Once a month, Waymo Via donates its capacity to deliver thousands of pounds of bread from St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix to CFB in Tucson. In the first four months of this partnership, Waymo helped transport more than 22,800 pounds of bread, a pantry staple for many families.
Waymo Via’s autonomous trucking technology is designed to obey speed limits and remain constantly vigilant. It builds on the more than 13 years of experience Waymo has in the autonomous driving technology sector, including more than 20 million miles on public roads and over 20 billion miles in simulation.
“[The partnership with Waymo is] a game changer for the people that we serve because it allows us to do even more with the amount of money that we have,” says Brown, explaining that when Waymo Via takes on driving and delivery duties, it frees up St. Mary’s food bank trucks to take on other tasks. “Things like autonomous vehicles really help save not only food banks, but a lot of nonprofits across the state.”
Things like autonomous vehicles really help save not only food banks, but a lot of nonprofits across the state.
Waymo Via’s local delivery team has previously partnered with other nonprofits in Arizona, California and Texas to deliver food, PPE, learning equipment, books and other items needed by the community. During the early stages of the pandemic, Waymo Via delivered PPE, food, and school supplies in Phoenix, and in early 2021, worked with the Girls Scouts of Northeast Texas to transport hundreds of boxes of their famous Girl Scout cookies.
Cable says connecting people with the food they need is what inspires her work each day at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. She says she sees how fully autonomous driving technology like Waymo’s can help complement her organization’s mission.
“We're always looking for more efficient ways to do things, so a partnership like this with Waymo, where the bread comes right to us, is wonderful,” Cable explains, adding that she is amazed by autonomous driving trucks. ”We are well aware that this is a changing world, and this is a change that is likely going to do us good.”
It's not about people giving $100. It's about 100 people giving a dollar.
Are you ready to make a difference for Arizona families in need? Waymo is matching every donation made to the Arizona Food Bank Network dollar-for-dollar, up to $10,000. Donate to the Arizona Food Bank Network now.