Saturday, March 30, 2019

Month 27: Breaking Down Barriers while Building Walls

One of the central campaign promises of Donald Trump was that he would build a wall to “protect” America from illegal immigration. Oh, and Mexico was going to pay for this wall. Fast forward to 2019 and this ridiculous wall has caused government shutdowns, Congressional stalemates, inhumane detention centers, and a stain on the heart of America.  Of course Mexico is not going to pay for this wall, and Trump has engineered a fake emergency to gain funding for a wall or barrier or whatever they are calling it these days.  Meanwhile, asylum seekers are left in limbo, families are separated, and many of us are left scratching our heads about what on earth can be done to get out of this mess. 

The only advice we can give to address the big picture is to put on your activist hat and continue the hard work of replacing those in Congress (as well as State legislatures, particularly in states that border Mexico) who support this wall.  

More immediately, how do we help the actual human beings who have walked through the desert to seek a better life?  How do we support our fellow men, women and children who are fleeing dangerous situations?  How do we use our American privilege (ONLY granted to us on the backs of our ancestors) to help other people?  (Side note:  the ancestral piece is far from simple…. all of us in this country have a complicated history embroiled in some sort of racism, persecution, imperialism, or other dark story. American soil is drenched in stink and to pretend otherwise explains exactly how we got here.  However, that’s another whole dissertation that I’m not qualified to write).  Anyway.

Through Together We Will Northern Arizona, we became aware of an underground effort in Phoenix and Tucson that assisting asylum seekers who come across the border.  Churches and activists throughout the state have worked to collect needed items for these families.  Everything from clothing to sleeping bags to food and water is needed.  The activists created an Amazon wish list from which interested people can easily send needed items.  These efforts are mostly anonymous.  Churches are not listed, location drop-offs are passed through networks of trusted individuals.  Threats of violence are real, and those involved are working hard to avoid incidents and keep everyone safe.

Flagstaff is 300-350 miles from the US/Mexico border.  Our community is fairly liberal.  Legal as well as illegal immigrants are woven deeply into the fabric of our town.  I imagine that every citizen in Flagstaff knows a family who has been affected by the immigration issue.  Personally, I know more than a few. I reached out on Facebook to hear stories from some friends.  I had many responses of caring people and the experiences they have had.  There are so many to share, and I hope to do that at some point. 

For now, I want to share the story of the Eckhoff family.  Kelly and Matt Eckhoff fostered unaccompanied minor children in Phoenix in 2015.  Rather than paraphrase, I will share my Q&A with Kelly, in her own words.

Cristy:  Tell me about the work that you did in Phoenix, Kelly.

Kelly:  Over the course of 2015, Matt and I were licensed foster parents for children who had crossed the border without a parent or legal guardian (unaccompanied minors). Some were caught by Border Patrol; others turned themselves in in hopes of being granted asylum. The kiddos we had in our home ranged in age from 3-12; children over age 12 were not eligible for foster care but instead were sent to huge detention centers, namely Southwest Key facilities in Phoenix. With the exception of a set of siblings from Romania, all the kiddos we had were from Mexico or Central America. All had a parent, aunt, or uncle already in the US who the children were coming to reunite with. Therefore, we only had each kid for 1-3 weeks while their relative was being screened for safety, then the children were flown to their family in other states.
 For more info, here's a link to a (super embarrassing) interview we did back in July about the unaccompanied minor foster care program:

Cristy:  Any idea about numbers of children?  I am guessing you were in the pre-Trump era mostly? 

Kelly:  I don't have exact numbers, but in 2014 there was a huge surge in the number of unaccompanied minor children detained at the border. In response to this (and in line with the Obama administration's desire to move away from essentially jailing children), the feds poured resources/funding into programs that employ a foster care model for unaccompanied minors... hence the creation of the Refugio Phoenix program that we fostered through.

Cristy:  What were the biggest needs you saw with these children/families? 

Kelly:  As cliche as it sounds, the children who came through our doors (as well as their families) were extremely resilient. Having little ones of my own, I can not even imagine them making the journey these kids made to try to reunite with their loved ones. They were so nonchalant as they told us about their dangerous journeys, about being robbed at knife point, about having not eaten for 3 days, or about how they hadn't seen their mom in 8 years because she came to the US before them.  And yet they were such "normal" kiddos.... they loved to be read to, to cook food from their countries, to swing on our backyard tree swing, and to plan surprises for me for Mother's Day. Mind-blowing.

Every single kid we had told us they fled because it was too dangerous in their country and their families feared for their safety OR their relative left because they were no economic opportunities in their country and now the kids were coming here to reunite with them. So meeting high level needs would mean investing not in a longer/taller border wall but rather in the economies and security of the countries people are fleeing from.

Cristy: Personally how did this work affect you?  What called you to this work?

Kelly:  Since undergrad my interest and focus of study has been on migration around the world (stateless populations, refugees, asylum seekers, etc).  As a couple, Matt and I have always enjoyed traveling, studying Spanish, and learning about new cultures. When we heard about the opportunity to foster unaccompanied minors, Charlie [Matt and Kelly’s son] was one, so our travel adventures had come to a screeching stop, but this felt like a meaningful way to be able to use our Spanish and continue learning about other cultures- all from the comfort of our Phoenix home. Fostering unaccompanied minors broke our hearts, filled us with unimaginable joy, made us angry at the policies that created these children's reality, and made us squeeze our little Charlie a little tighter each night. If there was a similar program here in Flagstaff, we would absolutely do it all over again... in a heartbeat!

Thank you to Kelly for sharing her story, and to her entire family for making the world a better place. The Eckhoffs continue to foster children in Flagstaff, although their path has taken them to a more traditional foster care route these days.  

Bottom line, what can we do to help?
  • Again, put your activist hat on. Let your elected representatives know how you feel about the Trump administration’s policies around immigration.  Let them know that you do NOT support the wasteful and ridiculous wall.  Resistbot is a great way to communicate quickly and easily with your representatives.
  • Consider making a donation through the Amazon wish list to support asylum-seeking families.
  • Do you know a family that feels isolated, scared or alone?  Reach out to them in some way.  Let them know that they are a vibrant and important part of your community.
  • Remind yourself daily of the values of America, and don’t be afraid to speak out and remind those who may have forgotten. Use your privilege as you have it to help other people.

We hope to have more stories to share soon.  Feel free to comment and share your own.

-Cristy Zeller

Monday, February 11, 2019

Month 26: WENA (Women Empowering Northern Arizona)

In 2014, Katie Woodard, a local Flagstaff photographer, was scrolling through her Facebook feed. A post from a friend living in her home state of North Carolina caught her eye. The friend posted about an organization she was involved with that was a "Giving Circle."  The basic idea was that 100 people come together and each donate $100 to a local nonprofit agency.  Within two hours, a small group of people can make an enormous impact with a $10,000 donation. 

From this seed of an idea spotted on social media, WENA (Women Empowering Northern Arizona) was born.  With her friend, Susan Beaupre, Katie developed a model for Flagstaff that has raised $154,000 (yes, you read that correctly) since their first meeting in May 2014.  Some of our past 48months agencies have been recipients, including Flagstaff Shelter Services, Northland Family Help Center, and the Literacy Center.  A full list of WENA beneficiaries can be found here.

The next WENA meeting is Tuesday, February 12, 2019 from 5:30-7:30pm at the east side Toasted Owl (5200 E. Cortland Blvd, 86004).  The owner of Toasted Owl generously donates food and the bar is open so the WENA members can relax with a glass of wine or a beer.  

How does WENA work?  Here are the nuts and bolts:

  • Members nominate charities.  In order to be deemed eligible, charities must have held 501(c)(3) nonprofit status for at least two years.  
  • Nominations are submitted online and must be approved before the meeting (note... this is a recent change if you are an older WENA member and haven't been to a meeting in awhile).
  • Organizations must serve northern Arizona.
  • WENA seeks to avoid potentially polarizing organizations such as churches and schools (let's face it, not everyone agrees on church, and we all have our favorite schools. It's prudent to avoid a scenario where moms come to blows over school choice).
  • During the meeting, a WENA member will draw three of the nominated charities from the bowl. Nominators will then have five minutes to present their charities using the guidelines found on the website. 
  • After the presentations, the 100+ WENA members will vote, and the winning organization will receive hopefully at least $10,000.
  • Your charity that you nominated might not win.  Your favorite of the three charities might not win.  That's the deal.  You write your check for $100 regardless of who wins. 
  • All of the specific rules for nominating, membership, etc. can be found on the website!

WENA is not its own charity, and they keep no money.  They basically serve as a vetting organization and mechanism for very quick distribution.  The winning charity provides members with a receipt for their taxes.

A common question... "what if I don't have $100 to spare?" Well, do you have $50?  You and a friend can attend and split your vote.  If you aren't in a place to make financial contributions, we encourage you to visit the WENA website and educate yourselves about the worthy organizations that they support.  Find ways that you can volunteer your time or goods for these agencies that have already received the stamp of approval of at least 100 women in your community!  Also make sure you follow them on Facebook and Instagram.  

Future goals for WENA:
  • Advertise and coordinate more volunteer opportunities.
  • Develop a "kid" WENA,  (Katie and I had an awesome conversation over Mother Road beers about getting this started, and I see so much potential for this idea.  Anyone want to help us get it off the ground?)
Sadly, Jacki and I can't attend the February 12 WENA meeting (we are going to Phoenix to hear Michelle Obama speak!!!), but we are planning to attend the May meeting.  Go check it out, and let us know what you think!

Thank you Katie, Susan, and all of the amazing Women Empowering Northern Arizona.  As the Proverb tells us, "Many hands make light work."  Won't you consider lending your hand?  

For more information about WENA, please visit their website or email

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Month 25: Flagstaff Family Food Center: Food Bank and Kitchen


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a meeting that involves the Flagstaff Family Food Center (FFFC) and someone (usually me) just assumes it’s located at the Kitchen on Second St. in Sunnyside. That’s where the public can get a hot meal 365 days a year, and it’s often thought that all things FFFC just automatically happen at this well-known location.

After Cristy and I toured their warehouse facility on Huntington Dr., we discovered FFFC is so much more than the amazing Kitchen. The Fundraising and Volunteer Specialist, Kristine Pavlik, gave us a tour, and every time we thought she was done, we’d go around another corner and she’d talk about another program, or another service they provide to feed and care for the hungry in our community.

What struck me most was FFFC’s ability and willingness to jump in and come up with creative solutions to some of the biggest problems facing our community. For
  • Many families at Killip Elementary School rely on FFFC’s services, so the two organizations are working together to bring a mobile pantry with fresh produce to the school.
  • FFFC works with Frank Branham, the former owner and chef of the Cottage Place, one of Flagstaff’s best restaurants. Frank helps volunteers understand how to decrease waste with produce, and how to salvage produce where parts might be spoiled, but other parts are completely viable. He also provides recipes to FFFC clients, instructing them how to best use produce that is not at its peak, but still full of nutrients.
  • FFFC deals with A LOT of cardboard, and so do other business in town. When their drivers are picking up food from the grocery stores, they swing by W.L. Gore to pick up excess cardboard. Back at the shelter, it’s baled and sold, generating about $1,000/month!
  • Many people in need of FFFC’s services don’t have access to a kitchen, so they prepare overnight bags with items that don’t need to be heated.
  • FFFC is committed to having as much waste as possible. Sometimes, they get produce that is far too past its prime to share with clients. Turns out, this is perfect for farmers to feed their animals. And sometimes, they’ll give FFFC eggs in return. Win-win.
FFFC’s warehouse and kitchen locations both provide vital services to the community. Here’s a breakdown of what happens at each location (hint….awesome things happen at both locations):

Warehouse (3805 E. Huntington Dr.)
  • Food Box Distribution: Cristy and I saw firsthand the army of volunteers loading food boxes into cars during pick-up time. Families can get up to five food boxes a month (one from the government, and others from FFFC that serve a variety of purposes. Plus, there’s usually extra items on-hand for clients to grab. On the day we visited it was bread! When we met with Kristine on Jan. 9 she told us they had already distributed 90,000 lbs of food in 2019.
  • Flagstaff Shelter Services Partnership: The shelter is located right down the road, and FFFC delivers dinner and breakfast to the shelter each day. Plus, shelter clients can stop by as they head back into town to pick up a snack bag.
  • Agency Partnerships: Area non-profits can access a certain area of the warehouse to “shop” on a weekly basis for their clients. FFFC distributes about 500,000 lbs of food a year through this program. In addition, Sharon Manor clients have access to a special area with household and hygiene items.
Kitchen (1903 N. 2nd St.)

  • Hot Meal Program: FFFC feeds a hot meal every day at 4:30 to anywhere from 150-280 people.
  • Sack Lunch Program: Anyone can stop by the kitchen from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. and pick up a sack lunch to take on the go.
  • Reading Room: This is one of the gems of the FFFC operation. Children who have their evening meal at the kitchen can head into the Reading Room to work on homework, reading, educational games, etc. Volunteers help with literacy programs, and there are shelves of books for children to take home. 

How to Help:

Cash Donations: FFFC is part of the Flagstaff Tax Credit Coalition, so your donation can be matched dollar-for-dollar on your taxes. And, it’s not too late for your 2018 taxes if you donate before April! FFFC is continually trying to meet the needs of northern Arizona, and they’ve added a monthly mobile pantry in Leupp on the Navajo Reservation. There is a greater need than monthly service, and FFFC currently has a grant that covers 50 percent of the cost of a truck to better serve the reservation and other rural communities. Your cash donations will help cover the remaining 50 percent.

Stuff: There is a year-round need for food donations. As Kristine told us, “Hunger lasts all year long.” Many people are inspired to give around the holidays, but that drops off sharply after the new year. FFFC had some scary months from March-May 2018 with empty shelves, and an increasing demand from households. They are committed to being smarter about storing food, but as a community, let’s be committed to helping during those “off months” (even though hunger doesn’t take an off month). Could you work with your school, neighborhood, church group, etc. to organize a spring food drive? Also, the Reading Room is always in need of book and “trinket” donations to give out as prizes for reading.

Volunteer: There are SO many opportunities to volunteer with FFFC. Their biggest need is in emergency food box distribution at the warehouse, and these shifts are harder to fill because they are during the workday (9 a.m. – 1 p.m. for distribution or 9-11 a.m. for packing) and the warehouse location isn’t as family friendly (think: large forklifts buzzing around). Kristine said many employers in town will allow employees to volunteer a certain number of hours per month or year, and this is a great opportunity to fill those hours. Talk to your employer about starting a program! Cristy and I have both volunteered at the Kitchen to serve the nightly meal or in the Reading Room, which is such a rewarding experience. My company also recently did a group volunteer activity where we made sandwiches for the sack lunches at the kitchen. The opportunities for individuals or groups are endless – just find the one that works with your schedule!

For more information about any of these opportunities, visit or contact Kristine Pavlik at  Like their Facebook page for frequent updates!