Church response helps Arizona food pantry devastated by fire

Within days of a devastating fire at a food pantry in Maricopa, Arizona, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent two large trucks full of food and commodities to help.

Maricopa Food Pantry Founder and CEO Jim Shoaf was incredibly grateful: “That just started us off with a big bang,” he said.

Nearly 50,000 pounds of food were destroyed in the fire at the Maricopa Food Pantry on Monday, March 28. Local news agencies reported that the black smoke could be seen 40 feet to 50 feet in the air, and covered the entire neighborhood. 

The same day, Maricopa Arizona Stake Relief Society President Vickie Rucker reached out to see what could be done to help. She worked with the stake presidency and stake welfare specialists, one of whom — Scott Wilkinson — had been volunteering regularly at the food pantry. 

Two days later, those specialists visited the site with the regional manager for Welfare and Self-Reliance Services, Bob Shaha, and assessed the needs. 

They determined the Church would be able to send two full semitrucks of commodities to arrive as soon as the food pantry could meet with its insurance company and prepare to receive the shipment.

Rucker said: “We were glad to help in this emergency situation, because they lost everything, all their resources, all their trucks. It’s wonderful that the Church could step in to be of assistance.”

A forklift unloads boxes of food from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sent to help Maricopa Food Pantry after a large fire. The food arrived on April 13, 2022.
A forklift unloads boxes of food from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sent to help Maricopa Food Pantry after a large fire. The food arrived on April 13, 2022. Credit: Vickie Rucker

On April 13, the shipment arrived and 48 pallets of food, canned goods and frozen meat were unloaded. Wilkinson, other stake leaders, and Rucker and her husband were there to help.

“It was inspiring to see how quick the response was, and the efficiency of it and the variety of commodities that came,” Rucker said.

And the Maricopa Food Pantry was able to quickly distribute the food on Saturday, April 16, to people who drove up to the temporary location. Shoaf said they fed around 600 people that day.

“The donation just boosted us from that point on,” Shoaf said, pointing out that some of the food storage items are good for two to three years.

Other charities, organizations and food banks in Arizona have lent trailers and supplies as well since the fire. The nonprofit typically serves around 1,200 families on a weekly basis, in an area that doesn’t offer many options for people in need. 

Shoaf said the fire began from a pallet jack that was plugged in to charge overnight, and the diesel fuel used to provide energy to refrigerate the food made the fire much worse. 

The church building in conjunction with the food pantry is still standing and relatively unscathed, but the equipment and storage facility for the food bank was a total loss. 

Shoaf now hopes to rebuild the facility with space for teaching food preparation, food storage and self-reliance classes. He has been inspired by the things he has learned from Wilkinson and other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“We work together a lot,” he said, including in emergency response after local floods and other disasters in the Arizona and Texas areas.

Rucker said she and her husband served a humanitarian mission in the past, and it was wonderful to see this response in action locally: “It was awesome to watch how the Church worked.”