Utah food banks handle growing need as recession continues

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With the recession causing job loss and high unemployment, Utah food banks have been dealing with increased need for several years. With more people in need, food banks have to ask the community for help when they find themselves with empty shelves of their own.

“When the economy started going south in 2008, we saw a significant jump in people coming in every month,” said Eric Lafferty, communications director of Community Action Services and Food Bank, the second-largest food bank in Utah. Food banks provide food to the pantries, where it gets distributed to the people who need it.

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Volunteers unload and organize donations to Community Action Food Bank on Wednesday.

“In 2007, we saw an average of 937 individuals weekly at the food pantry here in Provo,” Lafferty said. “In 2008, the number jumped to 1,343. In 2010, the average was 1,552.”

About 600 more people per week come to the Provo food pantry now than did before the recession. Utah Food Bank, which supplies food to 157 pantries across Utah, noticed the same growth in numbers.

“We’ve seen people who’ve always donated in the past are now in need of help themselves,” said Ginette Bott, chief marketing officer for Utah Food Bank.

Utah Food Bank found itself in need of help in July. While summer months are historically low in terms of food donations, cash donation and volunteers, they nearly ran out of food completely. However, when word got out, help arrived.

“The community really stepped up,” Bott said. “We got 60,000 pounds of food. People really did respond to the need and it was really helpful.”

Lafferty said that since the recession began, Community Action Services has reached out to the community as well. They have worked with several agencies, including the Boy Scouts, who have been a great resource for them during these hard economic times, Lafferty said.

Unfortunately, they don’t always get everything they need.

“I have noticed that with the food bank where we get our food from, they don’t always have enough food,” said Lindsay Goodrich, a student intern who works at UVYou Can, an on-campus food pantry at Utah Valley University, which gets its food from Community Action Services.

“I will request foods and they don’t have enough of the items we need — like meat or noodles,” she said. “They usually have a big shortage of those items.”

With the holidays approaching, food banks and food pantries will be facing their busiest time of the year. Lafferty said they do not anticipate a shortage, but changes to BYU’s regular football schedule may affect donations for them this season.

“The BYU vs. U of U food drive always determines how much donations we get for the holiday season,” Lafferty said. “But that usually happens around the rivalry football game — that happened early this year. Without the football game, there may not be the drive to donate as in the past. If [the food drive] does not go so well, it will be bad.”

Bott said she thinks Utah Food Bank will be able to keep up with demand for the holidays as well, although food donations are still needed.

“For the holidays we need 18,000 turkeys,” Bott said with a laugh. “I laugh, or else I’ll cry. Right now we have 10,000 turkeys. We need to figure out where to get 8,000 turkeys from. We can always give the folks something, but we want to give them a quality meal. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”

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