TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The forklifts are on the move in the warehouse. Year-round, they are organizing, combining, and sorting each item with a purpose at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.
But this time of year, more than ever, its purpose and importance is magnified.
As so many southern Arizonans continue to celebrate the winter holidays, it is a tough time for lower-income families.
"Families are real vulnerable during the holiday time because they have to make choices," said Sio Castillo, the food bank's Chief Development Officer.
It's a tougher decision, inside the food bank's food pantry at 3003 S. Country Club Road, than simply what to take home in your cart.
"It helps out a lot - just anything extra," said Jennifer Arnett, a full-time Certified Nursing Assistant and single mother of four children under the age of 11.
On Wednesday, Dec. 28, she packed the food into her car. This time of year, around the Christmas holiday and with her kids on winter break from school, Arnett and others sometimes have to choose between filling their children's desire for presents or filling their stomachs.
It seems like an easy decision but it's a tough one to make, she said.
"It is very emotional because you want to give your kids what they want - everything they need and a little bit of what they want. So we try to balance that and make it work for the benefit of the kids," Arnett told Tucson News Now.
She's not alone when it comes to what's known as food insecurity.
"They make choices of do we feed our children or should we buy them a little gift for the holiday season? It's also that the holidays are extra stress on families on their food budget because children are home," Castillo said.
The tough time for families, with children dealing with hunger as we approach the new year, is why food drives like the one at Winterhaven Festival of Lights are so essential.
The numbers are in. According to Castillo, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona collected 40,000 pounds of food donations during the 18-day festival. They also took in $20,000 donated by people who showed up for the winter celebration in Tucson.
They came up a little short this year. Last year's donation totals at Winterhaven topped 46,000 pounds. The donations are desperately needed in southern Arizona.
Castillo said about one in four Pima County children fall under the poverty line. That's about 25 percent also lacking access to enough food.
"It is probably worse in Pima County than it is across the state. We tend to be even a little worse off than we are nationally," she said.
But the USDA says food-insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time.
"Food insecurity may reflect a household's need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods," according to the FeedingAmerica.org website.
INTERACTIVE MAP: Food Insecurity in the United States
This holiday season, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona is also doing a matching campaign, ending December 31, to raise additional donations during a crucial time.
"Through December 31, your gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $100,000, thanks to the generous support of the Chen/Chow Fund, Jim and Sandy Peebles, the Jim Click Family Foundation, and other friends of the Community Food Bank," the website said.
Castillo is also touting the positive outcome of the Winterhaven food drive.
"It's always a success because we're able to bring in food and money, but a work in progress because as need goes up it extends what we would be needing," she said.
Arnett has those needs to provide for her four children.
When asked, she said she just wants people to understand, "how hard it is to make ends-meet when you have a family of that size. Every little bit just counts."