Photo: JoAnne Chaffer at a food-distribution event. (Barry Barbe/Courtesy)

By Barry Barbe

If you have ever been in a room asking for volunteers, the first hand to go up would very likely belong to JoAnne Chaffer. That is, of course, if she wasn’t already volunteering, or organizing the event.

Originally from Thousand Oaks, California, with a brief stay in Portland, JoAnne and her husband, John, purchased a property in Prescott in 2003 as an investment. Later, in 2006, the couple would make the house and Prescott their home.

While their two children, Jenna and John, were attending Prescott Unified School District, JoAnne took the advice of her teacher friends, who said: “The more you are involved in your kids’ school, the better they will do,” and became actively involved in their education and extracurricular activities.

“I did everything to the point of annoying my kids,” JoAnne said. “I was active with the PTA, Football Boosters, spaghetti dinners, Grad Night, you name it.”

Now adults, Jenna is a geologist, while John attended Northern Arizona University for a degree in Political Science.

“When 2021 arrived, I decided I couldn’t sit still any longer after experiencing 2020, and dove head first into volunteering in the community.”

With a passion for assisting those with food insecurities, JoAnne has been an active advocate and participant in making a difference through her work with various organizations.

“I really enjoy working with smaller, younger groups that are still winding their way through the various challenges that face nonprofits,” JoAnne said.

With a background in accounting and bookkeeping, having worked with Landmark West Schools for dyslexic children, JoAnne’s talents and love of accounting has been a useful asset.

Currently, she serves on the board of Real Hope as secretary. Along with serving on the board, JoAnne is also active in packing food boxes, and working the front line so to speak when distributing food to community members and neighbors.

“Real Hope Inc. operates as a mobile food pantry open to anyone in need. Currently serving 1,000 families each week, providing groceries at our drive-thru distributions. We also work with many organizations throughout Arizona to minimize food waste and improve access to reliable sources of healthy food,” Real Hope’s website states.

For two years post-2020, JoAnne served on the board for Prescott Community Cupboard as well as their volunteer coordinator.

There is something to be said about volunteer work and building community. The two quite literally go hand in hand.

As a neighborhood coordinator for the Yavapai Food Neighbors Project, JoAnne arranges monthly food collections from 40 neighbors assisting the Yavapai Food Bank and other local food assistance networks throughout the county.

“I basically send out a message through Next Door, saying this cool and easy way to make a difference, and on pick up / drop off day, they bring their items by, or I go out and collect them,” JoAnne said.

“There are some overachievers who bring their trucks full from a Costco run, and drop ’em off in my garage, which is incredible, but every bit makes a difference and my garage, and sometimes now the kids’ old rooms, are filled with green bags full of food for a couple days each month.

“I love projects like this. I get to meet my neighbors and have a brief chat while collecting the food and, after only two years, I have 40 neighbors participating, and I want more,” JoAnne said.

With all her work addressing food insecurity, JoAnne went to the source. Food source, that is, and began volunteering and working with the Prescott Farmers Market, which takes place every Saturday at the Miller Valley Parking Lot at 900 Iron Springs Road.

“I have found that addressing food insecurity for the last three years has filled my heart, and I want to be part of the solution, and I want to be part of conversations,” JoAnne said.

On a recent trip to tour a food bank in Flagstaff, JoAnne was enthralled with the work that was being done. “I loved the chaos that was being organized to help feed people in need knowing they were making a difference.”

Next on JoAnne’s list? “I’d love to organize a ‘Best Practices’ event or luncheon where the various organizations that are providing similar services in our area can learn from each other and network. It’s not a competition, its community and caring for each other.”

For more information, visit Prescottfarmersmarket.org, Yavapaifoodneighbors.com, Prescottcommunitycupboard.com, or visit Real Hope on Facebook.

Barry Barbe owns the El Gato Azul and Torme restaurants in Prescott, and is the energy and insight behind the Prescott Palette. His radio show, the Prescott Palette, is on KQNA 1130 AM, Saturdays at noon. Email: Prespalette@gmail.com.

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