At the northeast corner of San Tan Valley, on a one-acre patch of dirt, sits two white shipping containers. The insulated containers and the land they rest on are owned by the Pan de Vida Foundation, which has been operating in the Queen Creek and San Tan Valley area since 2003.
The shipping containers are filled to the brim with donated goods, whether it be canned food or clothes or strollers or crutches, anything somebody might need to get by is probably in one of the containers.
“It's donations of all kinds… We offer essentially like a clothing bank, we do a food bank,” said Kelly Gloria, daughter of Pan de Vida founder Mary Gloria. “So, my mom receives food donations on a weekly basis and that goes out into the community as well. There can be baby stuff, diapers, obviously car seats, and whatnot.”
The donated items are stored there in anticipation of Pan de Vida’s rummage sale in which they sell off the items for a fraction of what they’re worth.
Pan de Vida’s founder, Mary Gloria, often makes trips to the containers for supplies when people come to her for help, whatever it may be. That personifies the overarching goal of the Pan de Vida Foundation, which is to help and connect the local community in and around San Tan Valley. Specifically, they look to support seniors, children and families in the area.
Pan de Vida is a non-profit organization, meaning that all its money and resources come from donations, and all events that are put on are organized by volunteers.
While the Pan de Vida headquarters are currently modest, they have hopes of upgrading and expanding further on the land they own. They first hope to have a modular building on the property that can function as an office as well as a space for members of the community to come and get support or connect with other people. The end goal is to build a community center on the land where everyone can come and interact, meet new people, have fun and receive any support they need.
Pan de Vida started out much smaller, however. Originally working out of her house, Mary Gloria founded Pan de Vida in 2003 with the initial goal of providing a safe place and social community for the seniors of the local area. After setting up meetings and events locally at places like the library for a few years, they achieved their goal as the foundation worked with the Town of Queen Creek to provide the community site, which the town now manages.
“(The town was) helping us in running the senior center, and so I thought, ‘What am I doing here? I need to go out and do something out there. This is taken care of,’” Mary said. “And so I asked them if they wanted to take over and they said yes. And it was 2009 that somebody said that there was a place up here,” where Pan de Vida is currently based.
After her success with the senior center, Mary continued to help the community in any way she could, working on the foundation full time while also getting help from people like her daughter, Kelly, one of Mary’s 17 children.
“She hasn't had a paying job since (2003) she's been doing this. It takes a lot of, you know, phone calls and emails and whatnot. Rubbing elbows with the right people (and) getting your name out there,” Kelly said of her mother. “It’s a lot and she gets a lot of emergency calls either for food or, there's a new baby or, there's a grandmother that just took in her grandchildren from foster care or something. So, there's a lot of her running out here and being able to accommodate the things that they need in order to be able to survive.”
Pan de Vida gained some notoriety in the community after helping to restore the neighborhood in which it is based back around 2010.
After the recession, a home developer left a number of homes in the area unfinished, which led to some houses having drugs going in and out. There was trash all over the streets and neighborhoods as some people would bring their trash to empty lots and dump it. Stray dogs ran loose often falling victim to the hot temperatures, while graffiti painted many of the walls. At one point drainage issues in the area led to kids playing in wastewater after it rained.
Pan de Vida decided to put a stop to this. With the help of local volunteers and people from surrounding communities, they cleaned around 85,000 pounds of trash off the streets in a single weekend. They worked to clean up the graffiti and many of the locals combined their talents to help each other finish off many of the abandoned homes.
“We came around and got the town involved and… Pinal County set aside a certain amount of money to come in and pave the streets…also because of that sewer issue where the kids were playing, they had to finish off the sewage,” Kelly said.
Pan de Vida has only expanded its reach in the community since then, hosting events year-round encouraging seniors and families to come together. From helping Spanish speakers with English to taking kids horseback riding to simply exposing people to new opportunities and events at the library, Pan de Vida has been fully committed to lending a helping hand to anyone in need as well as providing safe spaces for people to come together.
“It's just bringing it back to the simpler life and reconnecting people. But also…there's nothing out here, so that's why the Explorers program is important. We're waiting on a grant response for that so we can return to a monthly basis of the Explorers program, where we actually can afford to take families and go do different things and just open their eyes to different opportunities.”
One of Pan de Vida’s most popular events is an annual health fair, usually at the Queen Creek Library, where people can come and get a litany of checkups and tests for free to ensure they’re healthy as can be. This year the health fair is being targeted for November.
Every year around Christmas Pan de Vida does a toy drive where people donate all types of toys and then parents can pay a small fee to come and pick out gifts for their children. While anything helps, the fee is not for Pan de Vida, but so parents can feel a sense of pride in having worked to get their child a gift, just at a much better price.
“We want the parents to give to the children not, ‘Oh Pan de Vida gave it to me,’” Mary said before Kelly added, “We want them to have some onus on it and it not be a surprise to the whole family what the kids got… So one, they feel a responsibility to that but, they get a super highly discounted gift for their children.”
While the work they do at Pan de Vida has made a massive impact locally in San Tan Valley and Queen Creek, it’s hard to sustain a nonprofit and work strictly off donations, making it even more impressive that the foundation is still going strong today.
Partnerships with the Town of Queen Creek and Pinal County have helped finance some of the foundation’s dreams, as well as financial aid from Banner Health and SRP, which funds projects that otherwise might not be possible. But despite the aforementioned financial aid they receive, much of Pan de Vida’s work is made possible by the donations and volunteers.
The annual Christmas toy drive would not be possible without donations, while the storage bins that are packed to the brim are full of donations of all kinds from furniture to diapers. Volunteers are also necessary to make many events happen and while Mary’s family is always there to help, it’s the volunteers from the community that make her day.
For anyone interested in helping there is a donation page at www.pandevida.tv as well as information on how to volunteer at future events, which are currently being planned.
Pan de Vida is a family-run foundation that’s mission is to provide help to families and those in need while reconnecting the community at the same time, a characteristic that’s been lost in the rapid expansion of the Valley.
“It's just, it's part of the family…being together, doing charity work, getting things done,” Kelly said. “We're just, we're doers. You know, it's like you see a need fill a need.”