Marijuana businesses in Arizona are chipping into local nonprofits to puff, puff, pass not just blunts but love for those who rely on charity for survival.
“The only love you get to keep is the love you give away,” Sheena Williams, vice president of Phoenix non-profit Tom's Palms said.
Four years ago, Williams and Tammy Broselaw met in a park near Thomas Road and 32nd Street to hand out spaghetti, cookies, and salads to homeless individuals. That same day, police warned them they could get a ticket or even be arrested for giving away food without proper paperwork.
Now, their 501(c)(3) non-profit doles out 1,000 meals to homeless communities every 60 days, as well as toiletries, clothes, and other donations. With help from Nature's Medicines Dispensary and other cannabis companies and dispensaries, the organization has grown rapidly.
Broselaw explained that after that first day when they almost got shut down they moved to a parking lot of a nearby cannabis cafe and social club — a place where medical marijuana patients could use their medicine — where they also fed the homeless.
Two years ago, Broselaw and Williams met the owner of Nature's Medicines on his birthday when he brought his wife and children to help hand out food in the parking lot.
They were able to operate from the local cannabis cafe and social club until March 2020 when that cafe closed, taking away access to the lot. Williams said she showed the owner's wife a nearby park where 25 people lived and other areas with significant homeless communities.
“They could not believe that people in this country, this wealthy country, go hungry that our government doesn't at least feed them,” Broselaw said. “They decided to step in and do what they could do.”
As the organization grew in popularity, Nature's Medicines offered the non-profit a pod storage space in the parking lot of its Phoenix dispensary on McDowell Road nearby Interstate 17 to store donations.
When the coronavirus pandemic began, regulations changed, and the organization was no longer allowed to hand out food prepared at home. The dispensary partnered with Triple J's BBQ, a local food truck, and buys 500 meals that Triple J’s matches.
Williams explained that they give away items and food in any way necessary.
“This one volunteer climbed over a wall to get to this small little family and give out the meals. It was parkour love,” Williams said.
At one of their recent events, they had twelve carloads of meals, toiletries, and clothes to distribute to anyone in need.
“People don't understand what the people are like in the streets,” Broselaw said. “They don't hoard a thing. They actually want to take what they need right there at that moment.”
The desire to give back stems from childhood, both women said. Each grew up watching their fathers help the people in their community.
That's where the name of the organization, Tom's Palms, came from.
Tom is for Broselaw’s father, who was a truck driver. Whenever he saw someone with signs saying they were hungry or needed food he would buy them a meal or groceries, she said.
“He would break out his New Testament Bible he carried in his back pocket and witness to them and pray for them and give them the jacket on his back if they needed it,” Broselaw said.
Palms refers to the hands of Williams' father, who was a logger. He would hire people in the community that no one else would. Instead of handing them the check her father would buy them groceries and pay the bills and then give them the rest of their paycheck.
That is the legacy that Tom's Palms has been maintaining for the past four years.
With the amount the organization has grown, they have been able to give aid beyond food and clothes.
Through a government program facilitated by GG&D Motor Vehicle Services, the women help people without addresses get identification cards, which can help people find work.
“It's hard to rent a home or find a place to live if you don't have a you don't have a job or income but you cannot get a job without an ID. Even some government services are denied if you do not have an ID, like food stamps or assistance,” Williams said.
One location the women frequent is Andre House, another 501(c)(3) non-profit, which provides immediate basic needs to those in the area, such as food, transitional housing, hospitality services, and prayer, according to their website.
Mulligan’s Manor, a home for at-risk LGTBQ+ youth is another place Tom’s Palms supports, which gives away warm clothing during the wintertime and gift cards.
“Every year we receive handwritten thank you letters for the mittens and gloves and QuikTrip gift card we send,” Williams said.
One letter thanked them for the penguin mittens she was gifted and the 13 packs of Sour Patch Kids she was able to buy with her QuikTrip gift card.
“This [cannabis] community is open to every type of human and every type of love,” Williams said.
These women have no plans to slow down, they are looking into ways to ramp up the organization and are always thinking about the best way to help the community.
The organization hands out food from the intersection of 13th Avenue and Jefferson Street all the way up Interstate 17 to anyone in Maricopa County in need of a hot meal.
Tom's Palms does not accept monetary donations, instead, they tell people to take the money and buy something to donate.
Any donations can be dropped off at Nature's Medicines Dispensary located along McDowell Road nearby I-17 in Phoenix. For more information visit their Instagram page