Teacher Feeds Hungry Children
Story in June 4, 2003
San Pedro Valley News-Times
Written by Thelma Grimes
After feeding the hungry for more than 30 years, Benson resident Elaine Owens received the Governors Award of Excellence and the first ever 2003 Champions Against Poverty Award from the Arizona Community Action Association and the Association of Arizona Food Banks (AAFB).
Owens, humble about the two honors, has spent the last 33 years serving people in need. She said it "doesn't matter if you drive a pink Cadillac or have nothing. If your hungry, we feed you."
For Owens, the drive to provide food started when she was teaching remedial reading to elementary-school students in 1970. While conducting daily lessons, she would hear the "kids' tummies growling."
"I would ask these kids when they ate last and they would say at lunch yesterday," she said. "That was just unbelievable and I wanted to get food to these people."
The rest is history.
Owens started serving those in need by starting the Cochise Senior Nutrition center in Benson, where she served for 17 years. Owens then went on to provide food for the elderly at the Ramona Morales Apartments for 10 years. She also started the Benson Food Bank in 1976, driving daily for cheese in Bisbee to distribute it for the area's needy.
In 1986, Owens took 20 seniors to Phoenix to stand in the Hands Across America line, where she received a grant to start the Cochise Food Bank warehouse in Willcox.
With the help of former Arizona Senator Gus Arzberger, Owens said 10 acres of land was donated to the cause.
With the warehouse in place, Owens started the food-share program, which has grown to include 28 sites under the Cochise Food Bank, boasting 200 volunteers and covering all of Cochise County and parts of Pinal County.
"Through the years, (Owens) has really worked hard and she deserves these honors," said Ernestine Davenport, who has worked with Owens more than 20 years. "There are a lot of people that need the help that she is always working to give."
In the April 23 award letter, Ginny Hildebrand, executive director of AAFB, said Owens was chosen from a large number of nominees for the inaugural Champions Against Poverty Award.
"We wanted to recognize the work that you have done over the last 30 years, serving low-income people in Arizona," Hildebrand said. "Your lifetime commitment to this cause has been exemplary and the results of your advocacy, dedication and resolve are evident in thousands of Arizona homes."
The proof is on the wall at the newly-constructed building at Cochise Food Bank in Benson.
In an interview on Wednesday, May 28, Owens showed off a wall of nearly 650 faces. She said every face is someone who has received food in just one month's time, noting there were still 450 pictures yet to be displayed.
Owens received her awards at a May 15 luncheon in Phoenix.
Owens, 69, is honored to be the first recipient of the award but down played its significance.
"We started this with just a little building in Willcox and look how it's grown," Owens said. "Last year we gave out 18 million pounds of food. I feel awesome when we are feeding the little ladies and the kids that come here. I'm not doing this for the poor people, I'm doing this for the people that work hard and pay all their bills and still don't have enough money for food."
Rather than talking about her own accomplishments, Owens' passion for helping the needy is apparent, as she kept giving times for people to pick up food at the facility at 441 Easy St.
The food bank is open on the second Wednesday of each month for anyone wanting food and is also open at select times during the month when fruits and vegetables are delivered, Owens said.
To get on a calling list to be notified about the fruits and vegetables, contact Owens at 586-3190.
Besides serving as president of the Cochise Food Bank for the past 28 years, Owens has spent 10 years on the AAFB, 15 years as secretary of the Southeast Arizona Food Bank, five years with Southeastern Human Resources, 25 years with the Community Action Association and four years on the University of Arizona Southeastern Health Center.
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