Holiday volunteers give hope to the homeless


A Food and Care Coalition volunteer serves a tray of food to one of the patrons occupying the coalition’s full dinner tables. (Ryan Turner)

It’s dinner time at the Food and Care Coalition. Teenage volunteers in colored aprons carry trays of steaming food to patrons.

Some patrons are at the coalition every day for all three meals. Some, like Norman King, come just a few times a week for dinner.

Seven years ago, King was homeless at 80 years old. King came to the Food and Care Coalition every day then to eat. He said he slept in his car, except for sometimes when Wal-Mart employees would let him sleep in the pharmacy until 4 a.m.

Jack Robinson, Food and Care Coalition mentoring and work training director, made King his “special project,” King said. Robinson helped King get back on his feet.

Norman King shares his life story at the Food and Care Coalition, where volunteers have helped him since he was left homeless seven years ago. (Ryan Turner)

King has now lived in subsidized housing for four and a half years. In spite of being homeless and abandoned by his family, King said he never got discouraged.

“The best thing is to find somebody that cares, or to find somebody that needs your help more than you need theirs,” King said. “When you help somebody else, you help yourself.”

While King’s life story is unique, his experience with being homeless is not. Utah reported an estimated 14,516 homeless people in 2015. The highest counts of homelessness occur among victims of domestic abuse and those suffering from mental illness, according to the report.

Food and Care Coalition executive director Brent Crane said this number has stayed fairly consistent throughout the last ten years. He said the Food and Care Coalition sees between 2,500 to 3,500 of these individuals.

Kitchen manager Kenneth Larsen displays the coalition’s large amount of canned goods, which are all donated. Larsen experienced homelessness as a young man and said his experience helps him relate to clients. (Ryan Turner)

The coalition is currently seeing an increase in homelessness, which Crane said is an unintended and ironic consequence of Utah announcing two years ago it had “solved homelessness.” He said the coalition is seeing more homeless people from outside Utah county as a result of Salt Lake City performing “sweeps,” which forces homeless people out.

Crane said he estimates the coalition will serve more meals this year than ever before. He said the coalition won’t turn anyone away who is in need of food or clothing.

Even with this influx, Crane said the coalition is not hurting for volunteers. The coalition annually receives 50,000 volunteer hours. Opportunities to serve dinner during the holidays have been reserved four to five months in advance.

A volunteer helps prepare the food that will then be served to patrons at the Food and Care Coalition. (Ryan Turner)

People can also make casseroles or sack lunches at home and bring them to the coalition. More service opportunities are listed on the coalition’s website.

Food and Care Coalition volunteer coordinator Courtney Finlinson keeps an updated list of needed donations. She said the coalition is currently in need of items like sleeping bags and blankets. The following is a current needs list, with top priority needs listed in bold:

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1. Napkins

2. Cream of mushroom soup

3. Campbell’s chunky soup

4. Salad greens

5. 45+ gallon trash bags

6. Canned corn

7. Chili

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1. Heavy duty bike locks

2. Cash donations

3. Toilet paper

4. Paper towels

5. Hand sanitizer

6. Glade plug-in refills

7. Glade plug-in warmers

8. Seasonal decorations

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1. Razors

2. Lip balm

3. Full-size shaving cream

4. Full-size lotion

5. Pocket-size tissues

6. Full-Size Conditioner

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1. New standard-size bed pillows

2. Twin-size quilts/comforters

3. New twin-size bed sheet sets

4. New twin-size mattress pads

5. Plastic hangers

6. RID/lice shampoo

7. Arm & Hammer powdered laundry


In addition to donating to the coalition, Crane advises people to “avoid panhandling.” He said only three in 10 panhandlers are actually homeless, according to a study the coalition recently completed.

Crane also encouraged looking for opportunities nearby to serve.

“Serve your neighbor. Look to your neighbor. Find ways to serve your family or those in your neighborhoods,” Crane said. “Make it unique and make sure it’s not just something we’re checking off to do, that we’re really capturing the authenticity of the service we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”

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