The continuing rise in prices at the gas pump and grocery store is being felt in emergency food pantries around the state, with requests for help this summer double the demand a year ago.

The 2-1-1 Information and Referral, a free social services hotline and a program of Utah Food Bank Services, reported that food-assistance phone calls increased the past quarter to 2,060, compared with 1,011 calls a year ago.

The record number of calls includes a record number of people asking for help who report having at least one full-time employed member of the household, according to the food bank and anti-hunger organizations.

The groups also report more than 345,700 Utah residents are at risk of missing or skipping a meal due to lack of food or resources to buy any. That figure places Utah fifth nationally in the rate of food insecurity, according to local and national anti-hunger coalitions.

Utah food pantries have managed to meet the demand so far this season, but are renewing calls for donations this summer. They are also beginning a public-awareness campaign on the increasing rate of hunger and food insecurity in the state.

The campaign includes a television commercial, scheduled to be aired by several local stations starting Monday that shows two children scavenging for food from discarded plates.

"Hunger is a real issue in our state and the campaign's goal is to encourage our community to think about how they can help those who need it most," said Jim Pugh, executive director of Utah Food Bank Services. "We are providing food to the working-class poor, a group that is in need, but is at times overlooked."

Summer is normally the most difficult time of year for both those in need and for the food banks. With the recent downturn in the economy, combined with soaring food prices, this season is especially hard, Pugh said.

Children are out of school, which means reduced-price and free breakfasts and lunches aren't available to all children. Families that were barely making it during the school year now have that additional responsibility of providing more food, Pugh said.

"The emergency food network sees a slump in food-drive donations during the summer months, further compounding the issue of hunger," he said.

Anyone interested in supporting Utah Food Bank Services is invited to learn more by visiting utahfoodbank.org.

Online monetary donations help stretch the impact of food-bank services in the community. A $10 online donation can generate about $90 in actual food items distributed from pantries around the state.

Utah Food Bank Services provides food to a statewide network of more than 240 nonprofit agencies, emergency food pantries and regional food banks.

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

Utah Food Bank Services also operates 17 Kids Cafe sites, 2-1-1 Information and Referral, and programs that provide services to low-income, homebound seniors.

For information call 801-978-2452.


E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com