If you still need to be convinced that there are people who are hungry in Utah, just be at building 37 at the Utah State Fairgrounds on the day USDA surplus commodities are distributed.
Pauline Valdez, outreach specialist for the Community Action Program, is grateful that more than 40 volunteers, mostly senior citizens, come each month to unpack the cases of food, bag the commodities and help distribute them to the elderly and to low-income Salt Lake families."We couldn't do this without the volunteers," Valdez said during the February distribution at the fairgrounds. "We have served over 3,000 in a day before the program was cut," Valdez said. "Now we only can help about 1,000."
Valdez opened the doors early to let the handicapped and elderly clients come in from the cold. Inside building 37 there were about 600 people patiently awaiting the 11:30 a.m. start of the distributing. Another 400 or so waited outside in a line. "They start coming before 8 a.m." Valdez said. "There are so many who are barely making it with high rent and utility bills to pay," she said. "When you see people come and stand for hours outside in either extreme heat or cold, you know there are real problems."
Volunteers who came to help bag and distribute food the last Tuesday in February included Henry Backus, Zelma Rushton, Charlie and Maxine Halvorsen, Verna Kooge, Don Terkelson, Alvie Hoggatt, Bessie Nelson, Shirley Dover and Valeen Ringwood.
Doris Richins has volunteered her time for the past seven years, serving also at the westside CAP office for the homebound and handicapped. Frank Dover has been a faithful volunteer for more than five years. Another dependable volunteer is Juan Romero. And Lloyd Nepolis, a retired Kennecott worker, battles illness to come help. "I just want something to do to help people," Nepolis said.
Because of cutbacks in the program, all that the clients received for their 3-hour wait that day was a 2-pound can of peanut butter, one pound of butter and some canned beans. The Community Action Program has nine sites throughout Salt Lake City where the commodities are distributed. Not only are more volunteers needed, but the food pantries are always in need of food for the poor and homeless.
Valdez invited people to spend a day in a food pantry. "Come see the families who are struggling," she said. Valdez can be reached at 595-0058 for information about the program.