March 2024
Local Food
Chef Molly Beverly

Manzanita Outreach: Filling the Nutrition Gaps

You probably shop at Safeway, Fry’s, Sprouts or Natural Grocers, all with shelves chock-full of good fresh food, an amazing superabundance. It’s easy to overlook that many people have difficulty obtaining food due to struggles with cost, availability, transportation, health problems, time, and/or physical challenges.

I visited a food distribution to learn more. Over 100 people were lined up at Prescott’s Seventh Day Adventist Church food pantry (Thursdays 10:30-11:30am), which attracted a mix of people. Some seemed a little rough, but there were also seniors and families with kids. Many looked just like me. There’s a friendly neighborhood feel, with people chatting and cheerful. For this distribution by Manzanita Outreach no one has to qualify and all are treated with dignity and respect.

Manzanita Outreach Director Ben Burke explains that healthy food is a human right. There is an abundance of food available, and there is a big need. Manzanita Outreach is dedicated to meeting that need, declaring on its website, “Manzanita Outreach envisions communities where the basic life needs of all people are met.”

From 2017-22 the group built a network to fill that job in the Verde Valley. It partnered with food banks, community and private foundations, churches, Head Start, private businesses, schools, the county Health Department, local governments and farms. It built a system for efficient aggregation and distribution, with pickup and delivery, refrigerated trucks, a warehouse with refrigerated and frozen holding capacity, and a wash-and-pack facility. It enlisted and put to work an army of over 1,000 volunteers. It secured funding through state and federal grants and private donations. It grew exponentially through the pandemic, and in 2022 supplied 1.7 million tons of food to local residents.

“The problem,” Ben says, “is how to get the most fresh food out to the most people.” Manzanita Outreach is the fastest-growing food provider in Arizona, and Ben is a master of finding the gaps, connecting the dots and filling the needs.

Pandemic’s silver lining

Ben told me that 60% of funding for Manzanita Outreach comes from individual contributions, and the remainder from state, local and foundation grants. Most comes as in-kind donations of materials, food and many, many hours of volunteer labor.

The pandemic revealed that our local food security and resilience were weak. In December 2022 the Local Food Purchase Assistance Program released $900 million earmarked for developing local food resources. About $15 million of that came to Arizona, some to Manzanita Outreach and its partners. 

By 2023 Manzanita Outreach was the largest food-assistance program in the county and one of the largest rural food organizations in the US. In 2023 Manzanita Outreach expanded into western Yavapai County and hired Prescott native Rebecca Serratos as food-systems manager.

Volunteers are vital to operations

I met Rebecca on a sunny Valentine’s Day morning at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Prescott. She was receiving deliveries from local farmers, all of whom I recognized from the Prescott Farmer’s Market. She’s a specialist in building local person-to-person relationships, and greets each vendor with cheer and a check from Manzanita Outreach, paying out almost $6,000 to five farmers for beautiful fresh chard, salad greens, arugula, kale, radishes, Jchokes, sprouts, onions, carrots and citrus (picked in Phoenix by a local farm). Manzanita Outreach buys excess — whatever and however much is available — and pays market value. The group is the largest purchaser of locally produced food in Yavapai County.

People especially like that they can pick from what is available, and a lot is on offer. Besides the load of fresh vegetables from Manzanita Outreach there are piles of durable vegetables (potatoes, carrots and a mound of huge turnips), bread, pastries, canned goods, frozen meat and much more from Saint Mary’s Food Bank. People can pick from what they like and are not stuck with a boxful of whatever.

Manzanita Outreach distributes through many outlets in western Yavapai — you can see the list and services of partner organizations at

The group continues to expand. Its 2023 annual report shows it grew by over 200% against the previous year, shared over 2.4 million pounds of food to over 10,000 residents, and upgraded its infrastructure. Ben Burke calls for a “bold commitment to build a robust, sustainable food-security infrastructure . . . for our entire community while bolstering community health, by making healthy, nutritious food accessible to all our neighbors.”

“I had almost forgotten the taste of fresh produce until Manzanita stepped in. My children’s health and happiness are back on track.” — Malia, Sedona

“Every meal from Manzanita is a reminder that kindness exists.” — Rosa, Cottonwood

You can donate or volunteer to help Manzanita Outreach via

Chef Molly Beverly is Prescott's leading creative food activist and teacher. Photos by Gary Beverly.