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Tim Hussin, Deseret Morning News
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Karen Hale visit with Ida Jackson, center, after delivering a package of food from Utah Food Bank on Monday.

James Jackson had shoveled a narrow path in the shin-deep snow from the front porch of his west-side Salt Lake City home to his car parked along the street.

Jackson, a recent retiree, was just beginning to brush the blanket of snow from his car Monday morning when visitors arrived with gifts in tow.

"I'm your mayor," Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said with a nod of his head, unable to extend his hand for a friendly shake

because of the bulky, decorated cardboard box in his arms. "We've brought you some food."

Jackson led Becker up the shoveled path and into his home, where his wife, Ida, beamed at the sight of the visitor and his gifts.

"Thank you very much," she said.

Becker was one of about 400 volunteers who took part in Salt Lake City's Day of Service by delivering food boxes to low-income senior citizens in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"There is no greater service we can provide than making sure that people who are in need have food, particularly in times when it's cold and snowy," Becker told the volunteers gathered at Utah Food Bank Services before they departed to make their deliveries.

"We're all going to go out and provide some service today that would make Martin Luther King proud," he said.

Event organizers were impressed by the turnout of volunteers — about 300 of whom delivered food boxes while another 100 or so sorted food items at the Salt Lake City facility — given the poor road conditions caused by a morning snowstorm.

"To see so many people here, it's very exciting," Jim Pugh, executive director of Utah Food Bank Services. "I think it's a great way to spend Martin Luther King Jr. Day."

Food bank staff presented Becker with a banner featuring images of King and capturing the civil-rights leader's passion for service with a motto for the holiday: "A day on, not a day off."

In addition to delivering the box of food, Becker and Karen Hale, a former state senator and now the mayor's communications director, took time out to chat with the Jacksons, talking about the weather, family and even health care and state retirement benefits.

"These food boxes are a fantastic support for our seniors," Pugh said, "but almost as important is the personal visit (volunteers) have with those seniors."

Utah Food Bank Services recently completed its holiday food drive, taking in more than 26,000 turkeys and 1.5 million pounds of food, Pugh said. The charitable organization provides food to a statewide network of more than 240 agencies and community centers.

Last fiscal year, Utah Food Bank Services distributed 18 million pounds of food — the equivalent of more than 9 million meals — in response to 1.6 million-plus requests for emergency food assistance from families and individuals in need.

For more information about Utah Food Bank Services, call 801-978-2452 or visit www.utahfoodbank.org.

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com