Girl Scouts have gotten people licking their lips. Now they'd like those people to help them lick hunger.

The Scouts, who have spent years tantalizing people's palates with cookies, declared war on empty stomachs Saturday by gathering thousands of cans of food for low-income families.The food drive, on the heels of the annual Girl Scout cookie sale, was part of the annual "Can Do" project, started five years ago with a troop of 12 Scouts who gathered about 1,000 cans of food.

The service project has since grown from a Salt Lake area program to this year's effort involving Girl Scout troops throughout Utah.

But, in the capital city alone Saturday, motorcades of station wagons, toting Scouts as young as age 5, delivered between 6,000 and 7,000 cans of food to the office of Utahns Against Hunger, 21 G St., across from the Governor's Mansion.

The food, which will help restock emergency food pantries around the state, came none too soon.

"The number of food packages handed out has tripled in the last five years," said Steve Johnson, Utahns Against Hunger's executive director. "Normally, the emergency food caseload drops in January after Christmas."

But this year is an exception.

"In fact, most pantries around the state fed as many people in January as they did last July. And that number is expected to increase. The need is there and we can't ignore it," said Johnson, who expressed appreciation for the efforts of the Girl Scouts, including one special troop that arrived at the center Saturday.

Troop 779, made of up 40 girls including 30 mentally handicapped residents of the West Jordan Care Center were assisted by members of the Fraternal Order of Eagles. They formed a caravan of eight vehicles to transport 1,000 cans of food from the south end of the valley to the Utahns Against Hunger.

Community volunteers, who helped unload the food Saturday, will take it to the local organizations who provide emergency food assistance to Utah's poor.

Johnson said more than 200,000 Utahns now live below the federal poverty level (an annual income of under $11,650 for a family of four). Nearly half of Utah's poor are children.

It's those children children not unlike themselves that the Scouts were asked to think about when seeking the food donations.

Helen Harvey, coordinator for the "Can Do" event, said even the 5-year-old Daisy Girl Scouts were told that by donating one can of food, they might be helping out another 5-year-old who otherwise would go without dinner.

"We suggested to the troops to help the children understand where the food was going and why," she said.

The girls must have gotten the message loud and clear because they gathered lots of food from friends, relatives and neighbors during the food drive, which is generally held in autumn. This year, responding to recent emergency food shortages, the Scout leaders decided to move the project to spring.

Despite the critical need for food, the Scouts were told only to ask for donations of two or three cans from each individual.

"We didn't want any one girl to donate any more than five cans of food because we didn't want mother's cupboard depleted," Harvey said.

Then again, why not? That certainly would leave more room for those tasty cookies, which will be delivered next week.

Proceeds from the cookie sales go to another worthwhile cause Girl Scout activities.