Bold white letters on a black background proclaim the news: "The Jones are eating out again tonight." The photograph shows them, but it's not a glossy picture of a clean-cut family at a local restaurant.

The "Jones family" is young - Mom and Dad probably about 25, with two small children. "Dining out" means Daddy is hoisting Junior so he can go through a trash container looking for table scraps.Such a search for food is commonly referred to as "dumpster diving."

There's more: Smaller letters encourage the viewer to get involved. "Don't ignore poverty," it says. "Call 272-8683."

Anyone who calls will reach the Salt Lake office of the League of Women Voters, who are the main force behind the advertisement that appears on billboards, in newspapers and magazines, on television - anywhere they can get space or time donated.

The League will provide information on hunger and homelessness, a poverty fact sheet, tell the caller where help is available or provide information on organizations looking for volunteers.

The campaign is the result of two years' study by League members across the nation to determine basic human needs and how communities are meeting them.

The ad is apt to spark controversy - and I hope it does. Many people dislike or are offended by reminders of how "the poor people" live. And this is certainly a graphic portrayal. Others will be touched by it.

Either way, part of the goal behind the study and the ad will be achieved, because pro or con, people will think about poverty and hunger.

The study in Salt Lake County was coordinated by Sheryl Gillilan, social policy chairperson for the local League. As a first step, her committee conducted interviews wtih human service workers and presented three hypothetical case studies to determine what the fictional subjects would have to go through to receive help from social service programs.

The information received was then filled in with background statistics on Utah's population, with emphasis on those who are very low-income.

Overall, the results are fascinating - and a little depressing. Human service workers offered views on income inadequacy, the availability of public housing, lack of food, health care programs and effectiveness of programs to address those problems.

Mental illness, a sluggish economy, and the fact that many women must support families by themselves were the three main reasons cited for lack of income.

While respondents believe that Utah is doing a better job of providing assistance than three years ago, they also said need is increasing, and many people who need help don't apply because they don't know about programs or are intimidated by the paperwork.

Every respondent said lack of food is a real problem in Salt Lake County. While assistance is available in a variety of forms - soup kitchens, commodity programs, pantries, Food Stamps, subsidized lunch programs, and the WIC supplemental food program - many people with genuine need are not tapped into the assistance system.

The housing problem is complex. First, there isn't enough low-income housing, according to those surveyed. Much of what is affordable is unsanitary and unsafe. The problems is further complicated because, in some cases, landlords do not maintain the property, and in others, the tenants don't.

The median gross rent in 1980 - and it has gone up - was $248. For many poverty-level households, that amount equals between 50 and 100 percent of gross income.

As for health care, half of those surveyed agreed that people on Medicaid could get reasonable care. But there's a real crisis for people who can't afford their own insurance, but earn too much for Medicaid. They fall into a chasm, and any serious health problem can complete devastate the family.

An increase in the number of health maintenance organizations has made health care more available, though, they said.

Finally, everyone surveyed agreed that some responsibility for funding food and housing programs belongs to the private sector, which also bears partial responsibility for health care. Half see income assistance as a "private-sector issue."

The hypothetical clients could get help from social service programs. But it's a time-consuming process. To get started, they'd need to make between two and four phone calls, three or four visits to agencies, fill out two to four forms, have three to seven personal interviews, then wait up to three weeks before receiving any help.