Hunger hits home in Utah County

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Retailers aren’t the only ones gearing up for their busiest time of the year.

All across the state, including here at BYU, food banks are calling for donations to prepare for that time of the year when they see an increase in recipients of donated food.

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Volunteers collect and sort food during the Alliance for Unity food drive. Community Alliance Services hosted the food drive and is the local food bank in Utah County.

In Utah, approximately one in four children live in households that can’t afford enough food. In 2007 Community Action Services, the local food bank, served around 1,700 families per month. Those numbers rose to 3,000 per month during the worst part of the recession, but now they are seeing a reduction to about 2,500 families visiting the food bank each month.

Myla Dutton, executive director at Community Action Services and Food Bank in Provo, said people in Utah County tend to have lower-wage jobs. Utah’s median income is less than the median income nationally and with a lot of competition between university students and working families, it brings the wages down.

“The food budget is the first to go,” Dutton said. “You make sure you have gas to get to work in the morning. Someone is really ill; you want to make sure they get in to see a doctor. Utility bill goes up in the winter. People will choose whether to pay the phone bill or eat, or to pay the utility bill or eat.”

Many families in Utah County simply don’t have enough money to buy food, so parents will only eat one meal a day or go without eating for a day in order to feed their children.

Eric Lafferty, communications director at Community Action Services, said a few of the major contributing factors to hunger in Utah is that it’s one of the fastest-growing states in the Union but the unemployment rate is in the red.

“There just aren’t enough jobs with wages to support every family living in Utah,” Lafferty said.

Lafferty said the competition for jobs drives wages down and when jobs aren’t available, individuals with degrees are taking blue collar jobs pushing others out of the workforce.

Gina Cornia, executive director at Utahns Against Hunger, an policy and advocacy organization for hunger, said hunger is related to income and those with higher income are at a lower risk of being hungry. Cornia said local food banks as well as federal programs such as food stamps and reduced lunches work together to help ease the hunger burden.

“It’s very important for people to support their local organizations that are fighting local hunger … but it’s only part of the picture,” Cornia said. “The safety net that federal nutrition programs provide is very important.”

Cornia said those who care about hunger on a policy level can connect with organizations and food banks who deal with the current issues and encourages them to contact their legislators and members of Congress to support what they think is important.

While donating to the local food banks is always helpful and appreciated, financial donations have a much bigger impact. For each dollar that is donated to Community Action Services, the agency can collect 17 pounds of food.

“When we are talking about people who are dealing with hunger, we are talking about our neighbors down the street,” Dutton said. “This is us.”

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