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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Volunteers from AAA Utah unload and sort 136 turkeys to be delivered to various nonprofit organizations in Salt Lake City. The turkeys will be prepared into meals to serve Utah's hungry and shut-ins, allowing the needy to participate in and enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, in Salt Lake City.
We live in a very giving community. We're also living in a community that's seen increased need. —Ginette Bott, chief marketing officer for the Utah Food Bank

SALT LAKE CITY — There are times when Hildegard's Food Pantry has nothing to give.

"We have to turn people away because we don't have enough food. It makes me sad because I want to do more," said director Lydia Herrera.

Some people who seek food at the pantry are people who previously donated food when they had good jobs. The pantry used to serve about 1,110 people a month. Those numbers are up to about 3,000.

In the past, many clients did not have jobs, she said. Now, many clients are working families. "Both parents are working and they are struggling to meet their needs for food. Everybody is struggling right now," Herrera said.

Ideally, the pantry could use about 400 more turkeys to provide to clients for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, she said. (For information about donating, call 801- 595-5394.)

Herrera, speaking earlier this week at the food pantry to announce results of a Community Food Assessment conducted by Salt Lake City Corp. along with a team of community partners, said the bottom line is a growing number of people need access to healthy food.

"Hunger knows no season," she said

The purpose of the report is to examine challenges and opportunities in developing a more sustainable local food system, said Bridgette Stuchly, sustainability outreach manager for Salt Lake City.

"It's a great first step for us having a benchmark what the food system looks like," Stuchly said.

Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker said the report highlights the "enormous need (for sustainable, healthy food) and that we all have a responsibility to help."

The city has responsibility to rewrite ordinances and identify practices that "get in the way of selling and producing food," Becker said.

The city also needs to encourage the development of neighborhood stores that provide healthy options for shoppers.

The goal is to eliminate "food deserts," areas that are not served by grocery stores so people without access to transportation purchase food at convenience stores, which often has less nutritional value and is more expensive.

Salt Lake City has become a national leader in addressing chronic homelessness. "There's no reason in providing food, given our heritage, that we can't be a leader there, too," Becker said.

Sara Ma, a senior at West High School who was part of Utahns Against Hunger's inaugural Real Food Rising program, said students raised some 5,000 pounds of organic produce at two sites. Eighty percent of the food was given away, largely to Hildegard's Food Pantry, a ministry of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, and Catholic Community Services' St. Vincent de Paul dining room. 

The students also helped serve food at the facilities, which was eye-opening for Ma. "The amount of people I saw at those two places is astounding," she said.

Statewide, 1 in 6 Utahns is unsure where they will obtain their next meal, according to the Utah Food Bank.

This time of year, as families gather to celebrate the winter holidays, helping the less fortunate is a front-burner issue. Many people respond to requests for help.

"We live in a very giving community. We're also living in a community that's seen increased need," said Ginette Bott, chief marketing officer for the Utah Food Bank.

The numbers of people seeking assistance from the statewide network of food pantries and agencies served by the Utah Food Bank have remained stable from a year ago, but people are seeking assistance longer than in previous years, Bott said.

Some people simply have not recovered from the worst of the economic downturn or they are working jobs that pay less than their previous employment, she said.

Fortunately, a number of community partners have stepped forward to contribute turkeys and fixings so needy people and families will have holiday meals. 

Earlier this week, volunteers from AAA Utah unloaded and sorted 136 turkeys to be delivered to various nonprofit organizations in Salt Lake City. The turkeys will be prepared into meals to serve Utah's hungry and shut-ins, allowing the needy to participate in and enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

Molina Healthcare has also contributed 200 turkeys to the Urban Indian Center in Salt Lake City and Adventure Church in Draper for its annual Thanksgiving dinner for families in need.

A major food drive is also under way in Utah County, pitting Brigham Young University against Utah Valley University. Previously, BYU and the University of Utah conducted a food drive in conjunction with rivalry week, but the drive was discontinued because the two schools are no longer in the same athletic conference.

While Utahns along the Wasatch Front may be familiar with the Utah Food Bank and area food pantries, the nonprofit serves rural Utah, too. Some communities are particularly challenging to serve because people lack easy access to pantries, let alone large grocery stores where their food budgets could stretch further.

Bott said the Utah Food Bank welcomes donations of food, money and people's time any time of year.

"Our biggest need is in June, July and August. People need to stretch that spirit of giving across the year," Bott said.

The Utah Food Bank, in its last fiscal year, distributed 33.3 million pounds of food and goods, the equivalent of more than 26 million meals for families and individuals in need.

The nonprofit agency also served 222,837 Kids Cafe meals, delivered 31,044 food boxes and filled 19,884 kids’ backpacks for weekends and school holidays.

Thanksgiving contributions have been steady, but "Christmas is just around the corner," Bott said.

The Utah Food Bank is also asking donors to focus on meeting critical needs, such as donations of peanut butter, canned tuna, salmon and stew, as well as canned fruits and vegetables. There is an ongoing need for infant formula, she said.

Meeting needs of the state depends on donations of people's time, food and money, Bott said. The latter is particularly important because the Utah Food Bank can leverage $8 in food and services for every dollar people contribute.

For more information about Utah Food Bank, visit www.utahfoodbank.org. The nonprofit is also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/UtahFoodBank and Twitter at www.twitter.com/UtahFoodBank.

Food report:

• Salt Lake City is home to eight farmers markets.

• The Utah Food Bank operates a “grocery rescue” program statewide. In fiscal year 2012, the program diverted more than 12 million pounds of food to families in need.

• In December 2011, there were 22,780 participants in the federal food stamp program in Salt Lake City.

• From 1997 to 2007, certified organic operations increased from three to 48.

• Food scraps make up more than 20 percent of residential waste in the Salt Lake landfill, estimated to be more than 10,000 tons of food.

Source: Community Food Assessment conducted by Salt Lake City Corp.

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com