LOGAN — Mary Smith drove her car to Utah State University’s Maverik Stadium Tuesday morning to do something she never thought she’d have to do.
In fact, Mary Smith is not even her real name.
But the shame that accompanies finding oneself in desperate need, even in the midst of a pandemic that has shuttered businesses and pushed unemployment rates to record highs, is so overwhelming that she asked KSL to protect her privacy.
“I am judgey,” she said. “When I wasn’t in this situation, I thought they brought it on themselves. You don’t intend on being a single mother of six children. I have two graduate degrees and I speak three foreign languages, and yet, this is the situation I find myself in.”
Smith had a job lined up, but the pandemic put it on hold. She hopes the limbo that she and her children have been living through will end soon.
But until it does, she’s inexpressibly grateful for Tuesday’s event hosted by Farmers Feeding Utah because it not only offered her family another delivery of groceries, but it offered them fresh, local food.
“I appreciate very much that it was fresh, local food,” she said. “When you get food from the food pantry, at least one item is rotten, expired or inedible. Buy fresh, buy local if you can, but it’s not something you can really do when you’re on a tight budget.”
Michael Gibbons, vice president of the Cache County Farm Bureau, was one of those loading boxes into cars at the event that began with a giveaway from 8:30-10:30 a.m. in the parking lot of Maverik Stadium.
“Everybody was so appreciative,” Gibbons said. “It was really a great experience. ... You could see people waiting for food, and then just a little bit of relief on their faces. It was a little bit of a bright spot.”
Farmers Feeding Utah is a nonprofit group created by the Utah Farm Bureau to help farmers and ranchers who had products they couldn’t sell after the pandemic fractured the supply chain in late March and early April, as well as Utahns who lost jobs or income because of the precautionary shutdowns of everything from movie theaters to restaurants.
Tuesday’s event, which began with the giveaway at Maverik Stadium and ended with a delivery to the Cache Community Food Pantry, is the second miracle project and fourth event for the organization that relies on donations from Utahns.
The program buys product from farmers and ranchers, helping them stay in business, and delivers it to communities in need. Their first miracle project was on the Navajo Nation last month, and they had massive support for those efforts. Donations have dipped a little, maybe in part because people are unaware how widespread the need remains in many Utah communities.
“I think some of us were feeling a little bit of fatigue yesterday,” said Ron Gibson, who was one of those who helped create the nonprofit to sustain farmers and families in need. “But today was so freaking cool. We had 450 cars come through at the football field — that’s 450 families helped.”
Another 100 families received boxes of donated food after a news conference at the Cache Community Food Pantry at 11 a.m.
“They’re just normal people who are having a hell of a hard time,” Gibson said.
In all, the program delivered 42,000 pounds of potatoes, 19,000 dozen eggs from Oakdell, 3,000 pounds of pork, and 20,000 pounds of beef. It also delivered $100,000 in dairy products like milk, including shelf-stable milk and cheese.
“This is the kind of food I would take home and feed to my family on a Sunday,” Gibson said. “It was so cool.”
Matt Whitaker, the director of the Cache Valley Community Pantry, said the event is a much-needed boost for their efforts, which normally feed about 130 families each week, but since COVID-19 have been helping about 175 families per week.
“It is significant for us,” Whitaker said. “We lost our food drives because of COVID. The Boy Scouts and post office food drives usually get us through the summer months. But we lost both of them to COVID, so this is really helpful.”
They’re just normal people who are having a hell of a hard time.
–Ron Gibson, who helped create Farmers Feeding Utah
Those who receive help from the pantry must meet certain financial requirements. But Tuesday’s giveaway was a no-questions-asked opportunity for families to enjoy a bit of help.
“They’ve been really great to work with,” Whitaker said. “What they offered — eggs, milk, meat and potatoes — they’re all in high demand. It’s a very good offering, and we’re grateful.”
Gibbons said he’s worried the need will only grow, especially after state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said the state should consider moving back to orange (extremely limiting to businesses and public gatherings) if daily coronavirus case counts don’t drop below 200 per day by July 1.
“I am a little nervous,” Gibbons said, noting that he sees need growing through his experiences as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Now we’re starting to see people who typically don’t need help. But as this has gone on, they’ve needed a little help. And they’re very appreciative to receive it.”
Finding a way for Utahns to help each other, Gibbons said, is “genius.”
“It helps everybody all the way around,” he said. “It’s just a really great program.”