Food donations brighten holidays, but 'hunger knows no season'

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 13 2012 11:00 a.m. MST

Volunteers from AAA Utah unload and sort 136 turkeys to be delivered to various nonprofit organizations in Salt Lake City. The turkeys will be prepared into meals to serve Utah's hungry and shut-ins, allowing the needy to participate in and enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — There are times when Hildegard's Food Pantry has nothing to give.

"We have to turn people away because we don't have enough food. It makes me sad because I want to do more," said director Lydia Herrera.

Some people who seek food at the pantry are people who previously donated food when they had good jobs. The pantry used to serve about 1,110 people a month. Those numbers are up to about 3,000.

In the past, many clients did not have jobs, she said. Now, many clients are working families. "Both parents are working and they are struggling to meet their needs for food. Everybody is struggling right now," Herrera said.

Ideally, the pantry could use about 400 more turkeys to provide to clients for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, she said. (For information about donating, call 801- 595-5394.)

Herrera, speaking earlier this week at the food pantry to announce results of a Community Food Assessment conducted by Salt Lake City Corp. along with a team of community partners, said the bottom line is a growing number of people need access to healthy food.

"Hunger knows no season," she said

The purpose of the report is to examine challenges and opportunities in developing a more sustainable local food system, said Bridgette Stuchly, sustainability outreach manager for Salt Lake City.

"It's a great first step for us having a benchmark what the food system looks like," Stuchly said.

Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker said the report highlights the "enormous need (for sustainable, healthy food) and that we all have a responsibility to help."

The city has responsibility to rewrite ordinances and identify practices that "get in the way of selling and producing food," Becker said.

The city also needs to encourage the development of neighborhood stores that provide healthy options for shoppers.

The goal is to eliminate "food deserts," areas that are not served by grocery stores so people without access to transportation purchase food at convenience stores, which often has less nutritional value and is more expensive.

Salt Lake City has become a national leader in addressing chronic homelessness. "There's no reason in providing food, given our heritage, that we can't be a leader there, too," Becker said.

Sara Ma, a senior at West High School who was part of Utahns Against Hunger's inaugural Real Food Rising program, said students raised some 5,000 pounds of organic produce at two sites. Eighty percent of the food was given away, largely to Hildegard's Food Pantry, a ministry of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, and Catholic Community Services' St. Vincent de Paul dining room. 

The students also helped serve food at the facilities, which was eye-opening for Ma. "The amount of people I saw at those two places is astounding," she said.

Statewide, 1 in 6 Utahns is unsure where they will obtain their next meal, according to the Utah Food Bank.

This time of year, as families gather to celebrate the winter holidays, helping the less fortunate is a front-burner issue. Many people respond to requests for help.

"We live in a very giving community. We're also living in a community that's seen increased need," said Ginette Bott, chief marketing officer for the Utah Food Bank.

The numbers of people seeking assistance from the statewide network of food pantries and agencies served by the Utah Food Bank have remained stable from a year ago, but people are seeking assistance longer than in previous years, Bott said.

Some people simply have not recovered from the worst of the economic downturn or they are working jobs that pay less than their previous employment, she said.

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