TAYLORSVILLE — Bag after bag of donated groceries filled a semitrailer in the Walmart parking lot Saturday, part of a statewide effort by the retailer to restock the shelves of the Utah Food Bank.
"I'm not really sure they understand how big a deal it is for some of the people who are receiving the food," volunteer Lisa Straley said. "Even if they can't see what they're dealing with, they're helping the community."
The third annual Hunger Action Month food drive is held during what's traditionally the slowest month for donations. Contributions were collected Saturday at all 35 Walmart locations in Utah.
The groceries will go to more than 154 food pantries and partner agencies statewide to help meet an estimated 40 percent increase in demand for emergency food assistance.
Last year, nearly 74,000 pounds collected in Salt Lake County alone. This year, 168,000 pounds of food were donated through the Walmart program.
Many of the contributions came through community collections. David Owen of Taylorsville unloaded an SUV filled with food donated by member of his LDS Church ward.
"People are hungry year-round," Owen said. There are, he said, "a lot of caring people who just know that there's a lot of need out there and want to help."
Boy Scout Hunter Kjar, who was also dropping off a donation, said it's important "to give food to those who don't have it." He said it was nice to be able to help.
Also Saturday, more than 1,000 volunteers participated in the University of Utah's "Legacy of Lowell" eighth annual community service day that marks the start of homecoming week.
Organized by the U.'s Lowell Bennion Community Service Center, their projects included making quilts for refugees, knitting hats for newborns, painting murals and tilling community gardens at several locations.
"I think it would amaze my father," Ben Bennion said as he looked at the size of the crowd gathered at Mountain View Elementary School in Glendale. "He would be astounded and extremely pleased."
Bennion, who brought four of his grandchildren to join the day's activities, said service was a compulsion for his late father. "He touched people throughout the community," Bennion said.
Catherine Ferguson, 7, of Holladay, came to the school with her mother, Andrea, a 1992 U. graduate in marketing who served as a student president of the center.
Looking up from the tiny multicolored knit cap she was making, Catherine said she liked serving others. "I feel happy," she said. Before she started her project, though, Catherine said she had her doubts. "I thought, what? Why are we going here?"
Her mother pulled yarn through a quilt intended for a refugee family. "It's fun for me to come back and as alum. And I want my kids to grow up with that service value in their life."
U. freshman Daniel Macias, from California, was volunteering with the center for the first time Saturday, part of a group digging in the school's community garden. "It's great, everybody helping out," he said. "I just like getting in there with my hands."
Kathia Recinos, a University of Rhode Island student studying exercise science at the U. through an exchange program, said she showed up because she "just needed to put effort into something."
Speckled with white paint from painting over a graffiti-covered wall at Edison Elementary School, Recinos said had such a good time she intends to volunteer her Spanish language skills through the center in the future.
"Waking up early was probably the hardest part," Recinos said. "Other than that, it was a blast."