Pan de Vida raising money for ‘Little Mexico’ community center, garden

This design by Light Vox Studio depicts how the community center and garden proposed by the Pan de Vida Foundation would be situated in the Little Mexico community in San Tan Valley. (Special to the Independent/Pan de Vida Foundation)

This design by Light Vox Studio depicts how the community center and garden proposed by the Pan de Vida Foundation would be situated in the Little Mexico community in San Tan Valley. (Special to the Independent/Pan de Vida Foundation)

Mary Gloria wants to build a place where children in The Valley of the Sun Estates community in San Tan Valley can have fun and be safe. Bored kids can get into trouble, Ms. Gloria said.

“Last Saturday the kids didn’t have anything to do so there were six or seven kids throwing rocks and bottles at cars. They were maybe 8 or 9 years old. I asked them why they were doing that and they said they were bored, they had nowhere to go,” Ms. Gloria said during an interview.

That’s one of the reasons why she and members of Pan de Vida, the nonprofit organization she founded, are asking the public for donations with which to build a 5,500-square-foot community center with a community garden in The Valley of the Sun Estates.

It is bordered by North Sierra Vista Drive to the west, Surrey Lane to the east, East Skyline to the south and Rolling Ridge Road to the north, according to a project description organization members distributed at the May 10 networking luncheon presented by the Queen Creek Chamber of Commerce.

Some people have nicknamed the community of about 1,300 people Little Mexico due to its high population of Hispanics.

Pinal County does not have income figures on the community because it is not a designated town or city, Joe Pyritz, county spokesman, said during a phone interview.

Pan de Vida — Spanish for bread of life — helps low-income people in the communities of Queen Creek and San Tan Valley to meet their basic human needs while promoting self-sufficiency. It created the Family Explorer Club, provided 500 young boys in Queen Creek with football jerseys and equipment and implemented the Adopt a CHRIST-mas Child trees program.

In 2003 it partnered with the town of Queen Creek to create a safe place for seniors to socialize. In 2007 the town of Queen Creek took over that program. Pan de Vida holds annual Celebrate Life health and wellness festivals and provides scholarships for low-income children.

Ms. Gloria first visited the community about seven years ago on behalf of Pan de Vida. She said she noticed the unpaved roads were laden with potholes and tire tracks crisscrossed in front of, behind and between the homes. She said the walls of the abandoned homes were covered with graffiti, trash was everywhere and she was told there were drug- and gang-related problems.

Pan de Vida Foundation members helped get the roads paved and initiated a major clean-up of the neighborhood by volunteers, according to the project description. They also worked with Pinal County to create a retention pond to alleviate flooding and created a community board of directors and a soccer program, board member Gordon Brown said.

The community center and garden would be used for many community needs, Mr. Brown said. The garden would be divided into family sections so children and adults could work together and grow fresh fruits and vegetables and learn about the food’s nutritional value, he said.

Two residents of community sell fresh milk, cheese and eggs to the community, Ms. Gloria said in an e-mailed response to questions.

“One has chickens and an overabundance of eggs that she sells to the neighbors. The other resident has a cow that she milks and gets more than she needs, so she makes cheese and sells milk and cheese to the community,” Ms. Gloria says. “If this neighborhood had a garden and some chickens,  the residents of Little Mexico could be self-sustaining.”

The second part of the project — a large multi-cultural/multi-purpose facility — would serve as classrooms for early childhood and adult education classes, mentoring and tutoring for children as well as recreational activities to entice youth away from drugs and gangs, according to a press release.

“There is so much potential in the kids of that community,” Mr. Brown said. “We want to reach those young people before counterproductive attitudes are established.”

The estimated cost of the project in $675,000. The first phase is to purchase a 1-acre parcel of land at Red Bird Lane and Santa Clara Drive inside the community on which to build the project. The purchase price of $75,000 is due by the end of June, according to the project description.

Pan de Vida’s original agreement with the property owner was to pay for the land by March. When the organization was unable to raise enough money in time, the property owner extended the agreement to the end of June, Ms. Gloria said.

Additional costs are projected at $550,000 to construct the community center in Phase II, $25,000 for environmentally friendly Xeriscape landscaping and $25,000 to complete an outdoor structure to enhance the community garden.

So far, the foundation has received $39,774 in donations to its office. Its gofundme page had received $1,725 in donations as of 11 a.m. June 13.

Donations also may be made by mail to: Pan de Vida Foundation, Community Garden and Community Center Fund, P.O. Box 745, Queen Creek, AZ 85242 and online. For more information, e-mail info@pandevidaaz.org or call 480-688-6326.

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