Utah food banks, community respond to increased need

Volunteers stock shelves at the Community Action Food Bank in Provo before mask mandates. (Community Action)

Utah’s food banks have seen an increase in help from the community as the pandemic has created more people in need of basic necessities.

Heidi Cannella, the Utah Food Bank head of communications, said the food bank has received a huge influx of donations since the pandemic began. Cannella said since March the Utah Food Bank has distributed 42.4 million pounds of food, nearly 10 million pounds more than in 2019.

The Utah Food Bank’s Mobile Pantry has been a big contributor with helping people in need during the pandemic. It is a drive-thru program that offers people food who are underserved by “brick and mortar” food pantries. Cannella said it has been a great tool when there is an increased need in a certain area.

Infographic detailing the huge increase in donations and volunteer contributions to the Utah Food Bank during 2020. (Utah Food Bank)

Cannella emphasized that the increased need won’t go away immediately when the pandemic dies down and that a vaccine isn’t going to solve hunger.

“So, while the donations and the outpouring of support we’re receiving is phenomenal, we definitely are making plans,” Cannella said. “We’re going to have increased distribution for even longer than the actual pandemic probably.”

Community Action Services and Food Bank in Provo has also seen an increase in funding this year. Tom Hogan, the associate director of Community Action Services, said that while exact numbers aren’t yet available, everyone has made a significant effort to support the community.

“Once the pandemic hit, most of us went through a time of adjustment. After that initial phase wore off, most people began to ask, ‘what can I do to help?'” Hogan said. “True to form, our community has stepped up and supported us in numerous ways.”

For example, he said there has been more help in small neighborhoods, workplaces and school food drives. Hogan said they are hopeful that once community members engage with their food bank that it becomes part of their new normal. 

“We hope that everyone will realize how easy it is to be engaged in a good cause, and return to Community Action Services and Food Bank as the vehicle to impact their community in a positive way,” Hogan said.

Utahns Against Hunger is an organization in Salt Lake City that has created a COVID-19 response for people in need. Their website says that as an ongoing result of the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended waivers that allow school districts to participate in the Summer Food Service Program all the way through December 2020. 

“While most of these meals will be integrated into normal meal service, some districts will also be operating community meal sites available to children 18 and under,” the website says.

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