SALT LAKE CITY — Shortly after accepting a position as the Salt Lake County Health Department's dietician in 2015, Leslie Chan said she was shocked when she walked into a local food pantry and "all I saw were cases of Mountain Dew and Twinkies."
And it sparked her desire for change.
“I wanted a fun and creative way to get the word out to the public to donate healthy food to food pantries,” Chan said, which is why she decided to organize "a community display and food drive focused on healthy food items for the Utah Food Bank."
For the second year in a row, the health department has teamed up with local businesses to raise hunger awareness and collect healthy canned food in a creative way.
On Tuesday, six businesses displayed hand-crafted sculptures made of healthy canned food at the Salt Lake City Main Library. The food ultimately will be donated to the Utah Food Bank.
“The idea is to promote the donation of healthy foods for those in need at this time of year when the food bank really needs that,” said Erin Litvack, director of the county's community services department.
Food banks tend to see a depletion in the summer months due to a higher need from children who normally rely on school-provided lunches and a lack of donations, Litvack said.
"Sadly, those who experience hunger and food insecurity are at the highest risk for chronic diseases,” she said. "With this healthy food drive, we’re helping Utahns manage not only their hunger, but also their health."
Austin Strebel, a representative from Health Choice Utah, proudly displayed his group's sculpture composed of various types of beans and vegetables meant to resemble different exercise activities, such as "swimming on the beach or running, dancing," with a heart built from canned stew in the middle.
“The idea behind it was to show that exercise you enjoy … exercises your heart," he said.
Strebel and his colleagues were nervous when first asked to participate because "none of us had ever designed a structure made out of canned goods, and it’s not something you see or hear every day,” he said.
However, after about a month of brainstorming, the group grew excited because "it sounded like a really cool project."
Similarly, Sue Sodoma and Greg Reid, of SelectHealth, said they were excited to design a shoe made of food that would be donated to the community.1 comment on this story
Their shoe design was "thematic in that we have a STEP Express fourth-grade youth fitness program at SelectHealth, and the shoe is to showcase that program,” Reid said.
SelectHealth's mission, he said, is "helping people live the healthiest lives possible," which is why the company enjoys participating in the contest.
“It’s fun. It gets the employees involved, (and) it’s a great cause. What’s not to love?” Sodoma said, adding that her favorite parts of the competition are "giving back to the community" and team-building between co-workers.