Utah Food Bank hopes statewide event can boost stores for state's ever-growing hungry families

Utah Food Bank hopes statewide event can boost stores for state's ever-growing hungry families

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Statewide need caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is seen in statistics showing an ever-growing number of Utah families struggling to put food on the table.

And the Utah Food Bank is hoping it's a family affair when those who are not in want put together packages for those in need.

"We like to invite folks to shop in their own pantry at home. Have the kids in the household join them in the pantry," Ginette Bott, president and CEO of the Utah Food Bank, said Friday. "Let the kids select the items that they would like to share with other children, use it as an opportunity to talk about hunger."

The Utah Food Bank is hosting its "Feed Utah" food drive Saturday morning. Originally the food collection was done through a 30-year relationship with the Boy Scouts in the annual "Scouting for Food" drive. Bott said the decrease in Scouting membership and the pandemic drove changes to this year's efforts.

In combination with Associated Food Stores, JustServe, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the NAACP, Bonneville Salt Lake, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Utah Alliance and the Utah National Guard, groups will gather donated food or money statewide. Many residents have received bags that they are asked to fill and leave by their front doors by 9 a.m. Saturday.

In 2019, according to the Food Bank, 370,000 Utahns faced hunger. That number, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, shot up to 511,000 in 2020.

Bott said 1 in 5 Utah kids do not get three meals a day. The numbers include children who may rely on receiving one meal in school but likely lack access to food over the weekends.

Many religious denominations are helping the cause.

"All these different groups are doing whatever they can in their capacity to be a part of this," she said. "Some of these smaller congregations, don't have like we have, where we live in a ward and all your neighbors are centralized. Some of these congregations have people spread across the valley. So, their involvement was a little bit different."

The Utah Food Bank lists peanut butter, canned stews, canned tuna, canned chicken and macaroni and cheese as some primary items needed.

"Those are nutritional items that are of concern because we try to look for protein, we try to look for things that are low in sodium, low in sugar," Bott said. "We always ask for box meals, like mac and cheese, or Hamburger Helper and sorts of things that kids can maybe put together if they are doing the cooking."

At a press conference held Tuesday, Gov. Spencer Cox declared March 20 as Utah's official "Feed Utah" day.

"The past year has been divisive, it's been difficult, it's been a challenge for so many," Cox said at a news conference. "Utah is doing better than any other state. We were named as the best economy just last week in the United States, but those numbers obscure some of the difficulties that families in our state are facing."

Cox said he believes Utah will come together to help those in need.

The food drive will still adhere to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. Volunteers will collect bags from homes Saturday morning. Donations can also be dropped-off at pre-selected locations, including Macey's and Fresh Market grocery stores among others.

Bott said the Utah Food Bank is anxious to bring on more volunteers, and optimistic as COVID-19 vaccinations increase on the national and local level. Next week, all Utahns 16 years old and up can receive the vaccine.

"We're looking forward to inviting people back to the warehouse when we can," she said. "We always ask for three things: food, time and money. Volunteer time would always be one of those that we'll need."

Bott said the group is planning other food drives, including on May 8 for "Stamp Out Hunger" and she is hopeful the pandemic will be under control enough in time for its "Driving Out Hunger" golf tournament on June 14.

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