Battling Hunger with Hospitality: Interview with Lisa Notaro of St. Mary’s Food Bank

Battling Hunger with Hospitality: Interview with Lisa Notaro of St. Mary’s Food Bank

December 09, 2019

Weiner’s customer St. Mary’s Food Bank is dedicated to erasing hunger. For 52 years, they’ve collected and distributed meals to families in Arizona. Today, with a robust network of volunteers, farmers and businesses, they provide food to over 700 nonprofit partners across nine counties.

We asked Lisa Notaro, Chief Development Officer at St. Mary’s Food Bank, to tell us more about their work and how they’ve partnered with Weiner’s to serve the community.

St. Mary’s Food Bank

What’s the mission of St. Mary’s Food Bank?

We’re actually the very first food bank in the world. Food banking was started at St. Mary’s back in 1967 by our founder John van Hengel. He was volunteering in a soup kitchen here in Phoenix, dishing out food for people to eat right there. And he realized they might not have food at home.

He thought of a place where people, organizations and farmers could deposit food, like putting money in a bank. Then people who needed it could come and make a withdrawal. So he coined the term “food bank.”

He brought the idea to St. Mary’s Basilica in Phoenix, and they helped him get started. That first year, he and his team collected 250,000 pounds of food for people in need.

These days, we distribute 98 million pounds of food every year. We collect from manufacturers, grocery stores, farmers and even the government. If certain items are in short supply, like cereal, we conduct food drives.

We’re one of the largest food banks in the U.S. Also, almost half of what we distribute is fresh fruits and vegetables. We’re very proud of that. 

Battling Hunger with Hospitality

What’s your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is attracting donations and volunteers year-round. More and more people are donating in response to specific situations, like emergencies or natural disasters, rather than just giving regularly.

We’re realizing we have to get more creative so we can bring in donations year-round. For example, we needed to make it easier for people and companies to give back and volunteer. So we asked them to help us put together little toiletry bags for our homeless population.

We bring the supplies to a business; the employees put the bags together; then we pick them up and distribute them. The bags are incredibly popular with our clients, and they help us get people involved year-round. We get the items for the bags from Weiner’s. 

Toiletry bags for homeless population

How did you find Weiner’s?

I did a big internet search looking for a company that could supply us with everything we needed. Plus, I needed a vendor with quality products and good pricing since we’re a nonprofit.

With the first order we placed, everything went smoothly, and the customer service was phenomenal. I knew I’d found a partner, not just a vendor. We’ve been working with Weiner’s for about a year now.

What kind of products are you getting from Weiner’s?

We wanted someone who could supply everything we needed for our toiletry bags. We do a travel-sized shampoo, bar of soap, deodorant, comb, toothbrush and toothpaste.

What do you like about working with Weiner’s?

When I placed the first order, I didn’t count on the shipping costs, so I picked up the phone and explained that we’re a nonprofit. They worked with me to build a minimum order and save the shipping fee, which saved me thousands of dollars.

Since then, Weiner’s has made the ordering process easy. I just send an email describing what I need, and they help me order in bulk so I have plenty of stock. And even though St. Mary’s started out as a small customer, Weiner’s has always given us incredible customer service.

Weiner’s customer service

How do you dispense the products out to the community?

The orders come in big boxes. Volunteers open up the boxes and put the items in bins; then I’ll put them on a pallet and take them out to the location where other volunteers are making the bags. The bags come back to the food bank, and we give them to our homeless community.

We don’t ask for toiletries as donations because people would bring used products, and we can’t really use that. With Weiner’s, we can get these items new, and they’re all the same; it doesn’t look like leftovers.

People tell me how hard it is to reach out for help. So we’ve tried to make it a positive experience by putting high-quality items in the toiletry bags. Everything I’ve gotten from Weiner’s has been 100% perfect quality, and our clients love them.

Our corporate partners love the program, too, because they see their donation goes to good products. It actually encourages them to help us with the whole program, including transportation and staffing costs.

What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?

I’m able to find new donors and partners who haven’t given to us before. I love sharing our mission with them and raising funds for the food bank. But I also love that I was able to find new revenue and volunteers with the toiletry bags program and help those in need maintain their dignity during a challenging time.

Food bank volunteers

What kind of things can people do in their own communities to tackle the issue of hunger?

When charities in your community ask for help, give a little something. Even a small donation buys a two-ounce bottle of shampoo, which could make a big difference to someone in need.

The nonprofits can often do much more with your money than you think. For example, at St. Mary’s Food Bank, a one-dollar donation provides seven meals. That’s because we have buying power, a volunteer team and a network of partners who donate food.


Our deepest thanks to Lisa Notaro for her time and to the St. Mary’s Food Bank for the work they do. Weiner’s is proud to partner with St. Mary’s Food Bank in their fight against hunger.