Every Sunday morning for the past two years, residents of the central Tucson Miles Neighborhood have been placing food donations on their front porches.
And every Sunday at midday, those nonperishables have been collected by 68-year-old neighborhood resident Peter Norback, who drives his 1987 black Volkswagen Cabriolet with the top down. He puts a burgundy patio umbrella in the back seat, "to make it look like an ice cream truck."
The result: more than 20,000 pounds of food have been donated to the local Community Food Bank, which has experienced a sharp rise in demand for food over the same period.
About half of the approximately 200 households in Miles are now taking part in the program.
The Miles Neighborhood is bordered by Broadway to the north, Kino Parkway to the east and the Arroyo Chico Wash to the south and west.
Norback's idea has caught on in other parts of the country. Community Food Bank President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Carnegie says he's had numerous calls about the "One Can A Week" program from other food banks that want to use it as a model, and some are already doing it.
The Huffington Post ran an item about Norback last year, too.
And Norback, who has been living in Miles for seven years, also recently led an expansion of "One Can A Week" to two local grocery stores - Rincon Market near the University of Arizona and the Sunflower Market at East Speedway and North Swan Road.
Norback said he was inspired by President Obama's message of hope when he began the program with 10 homes in January 2009.
"The food bank was all over the news all the time," said Norback, who is a local computer instructor. "We're the richest country in the world. I figured if everyone gave one can per week, we could make our country a better one. I thought I'd start with my neighborhood."
While many have since soured on Obama's message, Norback has not.
"They are just being silly. They've never done a project," said Norback, who blogs about the program's progress. "If we all start working together we can make something happen."
Norback spends three hours making the weekly Sunday collections of cans of food and peanut butter, pasta and spaghetti sauce from neighbors' homes.
Every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon, Norback sits at Rincon Market collecting nonperishable food and cash donations for the Community Food Bank. The Rincon Market program began a year ago.
He spends another three hours weekly at the Sunflower Market collection, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays. Norback began collecting there a month ago.
His deal with the store managers is that at the end of each shift he uses any cash collected at the grocery store to buy food for the food bank.
"I figured out that we've provided three meals each to more than 5,000 people," Norback said. "That's a small rock concert."
While Norback mans the collections at Rincon Market and Sunflower Market on his own, he now has two neighborhood volunteers helping him with the Sunday collections.
Community food donations are typically put to immediate use, Carnegie stressed.
The Community Food Bank is giving out 30,000 primary food boxes per month - double the amount it was giving out in 2008. The food bank also gives out supplemental food boxes and provides food to 200 Southern Arizonan nonprofits. In November it provided meals to 227,000 Southern Arizonans, 40 percent of them children and 12 percent of them seniors.
"We see new faces every day - people from every walk of life," Carnegie said. "In the food bank's 35 years, this is the worst it's been."
Carnegie said he was initially doubtful when Norback approached him with the one-can-a-week concept.
"To be perfectly honest, I thought he was a little crazy. I said to him, 'OK, you go try it,' " Carnegie said. "But he's been so successful. It's so simple when you know you can take a can out of your cupboard and whatever you are selecting is probably going to be served the next day or week, perhaps on a neighbor's table. You may not even know they are in need. …
"I have been surprised it took off and was accepted so much. A lot of it is due to Peter - he's been willing to drive around the neighborhood and bring everything to us each Monday. Wouldn't it be a wonderful New Year's resolution if more people in our community stepped up and made similar commitments? If every one of us gave one can a week, that would be a significant resource in the fight against hunger in this community."
Find out more
For more information about the Miles neighborhood's One Can A Week Food Donation Program go to onecanaweek.blogspot.com
Go to communityfoodbank.com for more information about Tucson's Community Food Bank.
Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4134.