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Community Action: Food for thought: Helping feed Utah Valley’s neediest

January 20, 2019 GMT

You’ve seen the billboards — “1 in 6 Utah Kids Faces Hunger.”

It’s unfortunate — almost unbelievable — with all the prosperity we’re surrounded by here in Utah Valley. But as the food bank manager at Community Action Services Provo, I’ve seen many of those one in six kids and actually met many of their families — the real people whose stomachs and cupboards are empty. Hunger and food insecurity are complicated issues, but they are real.

While circumstances vary, the challenge of hunger is difficult for those who face food insecurity. Typical of the many individuals served at our pantries was a woman recently who had never been to our food pantry before. Her family was hungry and she and her four children needed food. Her husband was dealing with significant health challenges which made it impossible for him to work. As she tried her best to get food and help for their challenges, this woman learned about Community Action Services and Food Bank. She came to the agency hoping we could offer a little relief.

This woman broke down in tears when she saw how much food assistance we were able to offer. The children, too, were taken aback and so appreciative as the family had been living mostly on Top Ramen for weeks. Her thanks was profuse and typical of many individuals and families served by Community Action Services and Food Bank. It is a daily occurrence at our food pantries for clients to express their gratitude. The expressions of thanks are appreciated but clients are reminded that, without the support of so many generous community members and businesses, our ability to assist would be much less. The community support truly helps change lives, which in turn makes our communities a better place to live for all of us.

Community Action Services and Food Bank’s mission is to help people like this mother and her family. We support our clients’ immediate needs while also arming them with longer-term solutions and programs that fostering self-reliance. Here’s how the food bank contributes to that ultimate goal:

Step 1: Gather

Where do we get the food from? We stock the shelves of our food bank and food pantry through a few sources, including donations from food drives you may have participated in (Boy Scout, mail carrier and others), our grocery rescue program and donations through our website.

Community and business food drives are also a tremendous help. Examples include the 2018 Valley United Food Drive sponsored by Brigham Young University that brought together students and alumni from BYU and Utah Valley University to raise $45,406.23 and collect 5,414 pounds of food. We were overwhelmed by the efforts and generosity of these students — many of whom are struggling themselves. Another drive from the FBLA Club at Alpine’s Timberline Junior High donated 4,811 pounds of food through their effort to “Care a Ton” or two!

Have you ever wondered where perishable or out of date food goes when grocery stores don’t sell it? Every day, CASFB has trucks making stops at partner stores to “rescue” this surplus food and make it available to those who are in need. Our partner stores don’t always get the recognition they deserve. Their donations are important to the success of the grocery rescue program and the donations are critical in providing needed food assistance.

CASFB also receives products from sources such as food packagers and producers, farms, USDA surplus food and other agencies such as the Utah Food Bank and their partnership with Feeding America.

Many people don’t realize the significant impact that financial contributions can have in support of the food bank. Because of many free or discounted sources of product available to food banks, $1 can go a long way. On average the Community Action Services and Food Bank can feed a family of four for about $1. Donors may consider, for example, making a donation of a can of beans — averaging $1 — or, for that same dollar donated directly, food may be acquired at significantly less cost than retail. Financial donations can also be used in grocery rescue which can collect a significant amount of food at relatively low cost. That financial contribution of $1 can be significant. Of course, the food bank honors and appreciates all donations; food, financial and even volunteers are all needed. It all can make a huge difference to those less fortunate.

Step 2: Store

Community Action Services and Food Bank is the second largest food bank in Utah. Warehouse storage capacity in place is capable of storing significant quantities of food stocks. Also in place are refrigeration and freezer units for perishable food. All food donations are weighed, inspected, sorted and organized for storage and distribution. The food bank strives to maintain adequate supplies to meet the needs of clients, partners and to be a resource in the event of a community emergency. More than 3,000 volunteers each year help to inspect, sort and organize food to keep our programs and food bank and pantries running smoothly.

Step 3: Distribution

Food is available for individuals and families as well as more than 28 agency partners who receive support from Community Action Services and Food Bank. Clients meet with counselors through our intake process and an assessment is made to determine needs. The main pantry located in Provo provides food assistance to several thousand people each month. Three additional pantry locations are in Summit and Wasatch counties. Other partners of CASFB include 11 senior centers, women and youth shelters, in-school pantries, Food and Care Coalition, recovery programs, veterans and several church congregations.

A significant concern to CASFB is the number of children who face food insecurity. Our Kid Nutrition Pak program strives to help by distributing more than 1,700 Paks each week during the school year. This effort can be challenging but the potential benefit is significant. Helping kids succeed, especially in their early school years, benefits our communities and makes this a better place for all.

Making a difference

Examples are seen every day of people who have been helped by the programs of CASFB and our food and emergency housing resources. Recently, I was recognized while riding the FrontRunner and met a woman wearing medical scrubs. Her expression of gratitude was profuse as she spoke of the help she and her children received at a difficult time in her life. With the support and direction toward training, this individual gained skills and certifications which led to her employment in the medical field. She explained that she was doing well and was now independent.

It is remarkable to see how things can come together for people who may just need a little help and some direction. Through generous community donations, resources are available to help people like this woman. Her determination led to self-reliance and greatly improved life circumstances for her and her family. Making a difference such as this is gratifying and something the community needs to share in, because it is through the support of many that CASFB can be a resource to those among us who are less fortunate. And when someone succeeds, we all succeed.

How can you get involved?

Our mission is to foster self-reliance in individuals and families, ultimately benefiting our overall community as we help people who are in need. Whether you or someone you know is struggling, or you are someone who has the means to help, we want everyone in the communities we serve to know that CASFB is a resource to assist those seeking to move out of poverty. Donors, volunteers, community partners and businesses can experience a long-term difference through support of CASFB. Beneficiaries will thank you.

If you are able, please consider making a donation. Contributions of food, money and time are appreciated. If you or someone you know could benefit from food assistance, emergency shelter or programs of training and support, please visit our website at www.communityactionuc.org to learn more.