Local food bank could use some help

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While service activities abound on campus, there are also bounteous opportunities off-campus to help the less fortunate.

Some might think people needing handouts are just lazy, but just like college students, some people need to take loans out or get help. There’s no difference between that and a college student living cheaply now to improve their living situation in the future.

Provo is home to Community Action Service and Food Bank, a nonprofit that operates to help low income and poverty-stricken members of the community.  It is part of  a larger regional organization that helps the destitute with basic needs, providing them with food and shelter. Longer term, the organization helps families plan to deal sufficiently with financial and social independence.

A key point that distinguishes Community Action Services from other nonprofits is its board of trustees. Its website explains how the board is organized:

“[The board] consists of 1/3 public, 1/3 private and 1/3 low-income representatives; thereby giving low income residents a significant opportunity to provide input to agency programs and operations.”

Kelli Sprunt, a freshman from Moreno Valley, Calif., and a pre-communications major, has helped with the less fortunate in her home ward. Different members brought items like sandwiches and chips, then went to a homeless shelter and distributed the care bags. Sprunt said she was surprised with the diversity of people she saw there.

“It was sad because it wasn’t just old men, but also young people like mothers with babies,” she said.

Sprunt plans to do the same thing with her roommate this summer, as well as help out at the local organizations. She said people at the shelters are shy but also appreciative and friendly.

Sprunt related a story told by one of her professors, who explained why her mother gave money to every person on the street who was asking for money.

“It’s not our job to judge others’ choices,” the professor’s mother said. “It is our job to love the hope that is in them.”

That response has stuck with Sprunt ever since.

“You can always give them money and hope that they use it for good,” she said. “It’s never going to hurt you to give to another person.”

Kaitlan Marsden, volunteer coordinator at Community Action Services, said there are several ways students can get involved. For individuals, people can help from Monday to Friday, stocking food and preparing packages. Alternatively, there is an urgent needs list that volunteers can be put on to be contacted when the organization needs help, from a food drive the weekend of March 24, to a 5k in May.

Groups can also call ahead and schedule a group night from Mondays to Thursday, where groups are educated as to what poverty looks like in Utah and then do a service project.

Marsden said one of the best things people can do is to donate whatever they can.

“With every dollar we donate, we can produce up to 17 pounds of food,” she said. “It pays for gas so we can go pick up food from food drives. We also have a grocery rescue program, where we send drivers to pick food up that will be expiring in a few weeks from grocery stores.”

Eric Lafferty, communications director at Community Action Services, said people often have misconceptions about the homeless and destitute. He said most are hard-working employed individuals who are struggling to make ends meet.

“The demographics are very different from what people think: 70 percent are Caucasian, 12 percent have college diplomas, 33 percent have some form of college education and 66 percent have a high school diploma,” Lafferty said.

Lafferty explained there are two different kinds of people in poverty.

“Individuals that have grown up in poverty, generational poverty, grew up with a lack of resources like human resources and educational opportunities,” he said.

On the other end, representing the majority are those  going through situational poverty.

“The reality is that a lot of people are living on the fringe,” he said. “They are a car repair or broken arm away from being thrown into poverty. Their car breaks down, and their emergency fund is now gone. For a lot of people and families in the community, it was an unforeseen situation or medical issue.”

Students, he said, can help by becoming advocates for the program.

“Because of stereotypes, people won’t ask for help,” he said. “A lot of people qualify, but don’t want to be labeled as something they’re not. They could get back on their feet and help them build self-reliance but that doesn’t mean they can’t receive a little help.”

Volunteers can call 801-691-5247 or email to inquire about more opportunities.

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