Community volunteers from the First Things First (FTF) Phoenix North Region were honored Tuesday, Sept. 1, at the organization’s statewide early childhood conference for their collective work to improve access to healthy food for young children.
The FTF Phoenix North Regional Partnership Council, made up of 10 volunteers from the north Phoenix area, received the Eddie Basha Regional Partnership Council Excellence Award for Leadership and Service.
The annual award recognizes one of 28 regional councils from across Arizona for inspiring its local community to come together and promote positive and lasting change on behalf of young children, thereby enriching all of Arizona.
Brandon Basha, the eldest grandson in the Basha family, presented the award online to the community volunteers at the virtual FTF 2020 Early Childhood Summit.
He applauded the council “for their strategic approach to improving early childhood nutrition and creating positive change for children in their region and beyond.”
Since 2015, the FTF Phoenix North Regional Council has focused on a goal to help families with young children in Maricopa County have access to nutritious food and develop lifelong healthy eating habits, where more than 200,000 children live in households without enough food.
Basha highlighted the council’s significant role in forming an Early Childhood Nutrition Team, with representatives from FTF, local food banks, WIC offices, family resource centers, and other agency and non-profit partners. Over the past several years, the team increased coordination and capacity among local nutrition networks, early childhood programs and food service providers. The work expanded and by 2018, all six FTF Maricopa regions had created early childhood nutrition teams.
Last year, the Phoenix North team looked to raise participation in the Summer Food Service Program, where school districts provide children, as young as 18 months old, with free meals while school is out for the summer. As a result of their efforts, the Washington Elementary School District — which includes 19 Head Start and preschool sites serving 650 young children — provided a record-breaking number of breakfasts and lunches last year.
“They shifted operations to a mobile meal delivery model and continued to provide meals to children even during school closures. One participating district reported serving an average of 135,000 meals a week.”
“This year, with more school districts on board, the team was well-positioned to respond to the unfolding crisis in food distribution due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Basha said.
The FTF Phoenix North Region is primarily the city of Phoenix north of Thomas Road. The region also includes the unincorporated communities of Anthem and New River to the north.
The award is named after iconic Arizona businessman, humanitarian and staunch advocate for public education Eddie Basha, who spent his life championing children and the communities that nurture them. Basha was one of the primary proponents of the ballot measure that created First Things First, Arizona’s statewide agency that funds early education and health programs to help kids be successful once they enter kindergarten, and one of the movement’s fiercest champions.
“Family meant everything to my grandfather,” Basha said. “He believed it was his duty — and the duty of everyone in our community — to strengthen families, and he fought to ensure that funds were available to support the health and learning of the youngest and most vulnerable. That’s why our family is so honored to have this award presented in his name.”