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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Shelves are stocked at the grand opening of the new client shopping area of the Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank at Catholic Community Services, which is the largest food pantry in Utah, providing more than 2 million pounds of food each year to families and individuals in need, Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, in Ogden.

OGDEN — About 2,300 low-income households in Weber County will now receive help in a more dignified, efficient and safe manner, according to Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank officials.

Catholic Community Services reopened its food bank at 2504 F Ave. on Monday with a new, choice-friendly shopping area after two months of remodeling and expansion. It's the largest food pantry in Utah, officials said.

About 50 people attended the ribbon cutting to celebrate improvements, including the addition of air conditioning and heating, more parking and a “shopping” space separate from the warehouse.

“With 2,300 families coming for help a month, we just didn’t have the space in the other area to accommodate that many people,” said Marcie Valdez, director of the food bank. “This new space just really allows us to give people a lot more dignity in how they receive assistance from us, and we’ve been able to add some extra parking in the back.”

In the past, food bank patrons received a one-size-fits-all food box every month, whether they were an elderly couple or a family of six.

In 2011, the food bank converted its warehouse into a client-choice food pantry in the afternoons, where people could pick out what their households needed. However, it was often crowded and not efficient, food bank officials said.

Now, people can “shop” easily in the market-like pantry, down the hall from the warehouse.

Four rows of store shelving, made possible through a grant from America First Credit Union, hold items such as laundry detergent, cans of fruits and vegetables, baking items, tuna, juice and pasta.

Smith’s Food and Drug donated money to purchase one of the freezers, and the rest of the project costs were mostly covered by the ALSAM Foundation.

“The dignity and the safety of the clients that come here was sort of in jeopardy, so that plus the lack of air conditioning … and then just the safety of the parking lot … is why we did it,” said Ronny Cutshall, foundation president.

The improved parking and shopping space will facilitate the distribution of 200,000 pounds of food the pantry gives out every month. The food comes from three places — 30 percent from community food drives, 30 percent from local grocery stores and 40 percent from the Utah Food Bank.

Six employees and an army of volunteers, usually 10 to 20 every day, distribute the food to people who are income eligible for a food card, meaning they are at or below a 50 percent poverty level.

“These are low-income clients … but a lot of them have been displaced or laid off in their jobs, and they find themselves with no ability to provide the necessities of life, so being able to do that is a great blessing for us,” said Brad Drake, executive director of Catholic Community Services.

About 60 percent of clients are working poor, which means they have a job but aren’t making enough to make ends meet, and 40 percent are elderly or disabled.

“We see a variety of people, and I think people would be surprised by the face of poverty sometimes in our community,” Valdez said.

The revamped Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank officially reopens Tuesday, and Valdez anticipates increased need now that food stamp benefits have been cut and the holiday season is coming up.

“We’re always concerned about having enough food,” Valdez said. “This is a great time for people to donate. We’re anticipating that we’re going to give away 1,500 holiday baskets in November in addition to our regular food baskets. … So we’ll need a lot of help to make that happen.”

Email: madbrown@deseretnews.com