FLAGSTAFF, AZ - An Arizona food bank is taking more than 600 food boxes to Grand Canyon National Park on Tuesday for government and concession workers who have been furloughed from their jobs by the partial government shutdown.
Phoenix-based St. Mary's Food Bank says local aid agencies asked it for help because many of the affected workers at the Grand Canyon depend on each paycheck to provide food for their families
Also Tuesday, Tusayan business owners organized a "fed up with the feds" protest against the northern Arizona park's continued closure because of the partial shutdown.
The National Park Service says 2,200 federal and private employees who work in the park are on furlough and that the park will remain closed until the government reopens.
There is a grocery store in the south rim's village but relatively few services in the vicinity. The nearest sizable city is Flagstaff, approximately 80 driving miles away.
St. Mary's is trucking food boxes from Phoenix to the small community of Tusayan near the canyon's south rim, and then to a location inside the park for distribution Tuesday and Wednesday at a cafeteria and at a mobile pantry on Friday.
The food bank said it will continue weekly distributions as long as the shutdown lasts.
The Rev. Patrick Dotson, pastor of Grand Canyon Community Church, normally distributes donated food from his home, but he said local food donations aren't enough to meet the current need.
St. Mary's said local concessionaires are supporting their furloughed employees and their families with free rent and some meals.
Organizers of the protest planned outside the south rim's main entrance gates cited suffering and economic loss resulting from the shutdown and the Obama administration's refusal to accept offers of private and public money to keep the park opening.
Clarinda Vail, properties manager for a company that operates a lodge and has other properties in Tusayan, called the situation a crisis.
Vail said she hopes efforts by the state's U.S. senators, legislative leaders and Gov. Jan Brewer "will change some minds" within the Obama administration.
Brewer and state legislative leaders have sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to approve funding the Arizona park and other national parks.
Brewer's staff had previously called Grand Canyon Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga and offered to find a way to pay for the park, but he rejected the overture.
About 4.5 million tourists from around the world make the trip every year to the park, a flood of visitors that pours an estimated $1.3 million a day into nearby communities.
The closure is keeping visitors from the iconic park's roads, campgrounds, lodges, trails, overlooks and entry sites for rafting trips down the Colorado River through the gorge.
October is a busy time of year at the park because of the cool weather, with an average 18,000 tourists visiting each day.