By Anne Gibson
The weather has cooled after setting record highs and thoughts turn to the holiday season beginning with Thanksgiving and the St. Rita’s Catholic Church Holiday Food Baskets. “Last year we distributed 750 food baskets for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter with 600 for Thanksgiving and Christmas alone,” said Regina Tiedemann who organizes the food basket drive for St. Rita’s. “Each basket is put together by an army of volunteers of all ages with stuffing, corn, green beans, potatoes, gravy, cranberries, sweet potatoes, cornbread, and brownies. In addition, we provide a $10 gift card from one of our local grocery stores such as Wal-Mart, Safeway, or Fry’s for each family to purchase a turkey or meat of their choice to enjoy with their dinner,” she said.
This program began in the late 1980’s when one of the church youth identified a student in her class who was not going to have a Thanksgiving dinner. With the help of parishioners at St. Rita’s, the first twelve holiday food baskets were distributed to Vail School families in need for Thanksgiving. “The program became our primary mission and continues to grow each year,” Mrs. Tiedemann said with a large smile and the knowledge that it doesn’t happen without help.
Who is Regina Tiedemann, the power broker behind St. Rita’s Food Basket Program? She was an Army wife with three children who moved to Vail with her husband David in 2011. David retired from the Army in 2013 and Tucson became their permanent home.
Initially, Mrs. Tiedemann’s only involvement was bringing her children to help with sorting, but each year she and her family became more and more involved. Involving children is a recurring theme with the basket project. “Hearing the familiar comment, ‘Thank you. We would not have had a Thanksgiving without this basket’ is enough to keep me going year after year,” said Mrs. Tiedemann. She shared that her children Owen, 23 (Cienega Class of 2015), Shannon, 20 (Empire, Class of 2018) and Emma, 15, (Sophomore, Empire) are still involved and some years her mother, father, and sister travel from California to help out.
“The Vail faith community and the Vail School District have held a strong partnership for many years. The partnership has supported our Vail families in countless ways. One of those ways is St. Rita in the Desert’s food baskets. Hundreds of families across the district benefit from the kindness that St Rita’s parishioners and partners provide,” Vail School District Community and Connections Director Heather Stough added.
This year due to the pandemic, St. Rita’s needed some extra food collection support. According to Mrs. Stough nineteen schools, four Community Program sites, and the Transportation Department from the Vail School District and the Living Branch Church have linked arms to hold food drives to support St. Rita’s efforts. She continued explaining that in the Vail School District, “Education is a Community Effort”: an incredible representation of the District Motto in action. Thank you, Regina Tiedemann and St. Rita in the Desert, for allowing our district to serve the community along side you.
Community members who would like to donate food for the baskets may dropp off their donations at St Rita’s Front Office at 13260 East Colossal Cave, Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monetary donations may be made by going to http://bit.ly/holidayfoodbaskets.
If you are in need of a basket, please contact the church office at 762-9688 to be put on the list for a community basket.
Whittley “Anne” Gibson is a third generation Tucsonan and alumni of the University of Arizona. She has been an active community member in the greater Vail area since the late 1970s.