Utah Food Bank: Feeding Utah’s Families
While driving to the Utah Food Bank to visit their main Salt Lake City facility, I was picturing a rather large, but cozy, food pantry where anyone in need could come and collect supplies at any time. Boy was I wrong.
The Utah Food Bank, founded 108 years ago—how’s that for a yogically auspicious history?—is instead housed in an 86,000-square-foot warehouse that’s stacked to its atmospheric ceilings with shelves of well-organized boxes of every kind of food imaginable. The food bank’s Salt Lake City distribution center actually has no pantry. Rather, it distributes food and supplies to 129 food pantries around the state, including a Southern Utah distribution center in St. George. That’s 34.4 million pounds of food just last year.
Chief Marketing Officer Ginette Bott says most people who visit the facility come with preconceptions similar to mine. Honestly, it’s difficult to imagine the immense scope of the good this organization does every day. Even when you stand inside the ginormous building and contemplate the stacks, it’s hard to grasp. And here’s another mind-boggling statistic: The food bank fills and empties its warehouse 17 times each year.
Feeding Kids and Seniors
In addition to supplying food to statewide pantries, the Utah Food Bank administers three programs targeted to children and seniors:
- • Kids’ Café: The food bank’s Chef Randy and his three assistants make 1,700 meals each day. These meals are packed in a hot box and delivered to kids in after-school programs, at Title I schools or in boys’ and girls’ clubs—33 sites in all.
- • Kids’ Backpacks: Each Friday volunteers at the food bank gather a backpack’s worth of kid-friendly food, enough to keep kids happy through the weekend.
- • Food Boxes: This program provides seven to nine days worth of food to seniors, disabled persons and people who live alone and either have no access to transportation of their own or no relatives that can give them a ride to the food bank. They receive a variety of perishables—veggies, fruits and dairy products—and canned and packaged goods.
It Takes a Village
The food bank’s headquarters employs 90 full-time associates. Ginette says that all employees are committed to the food bank’s mission of feeding the hungry. “We’ve all dealt with hunger issues in our own lives,” she says. “We’re here because we truly believe in what we do.” Ginette has been involved in the food bank for 20 years, first as a volunteer, then as a board member and now as their chief marketing officer, a position she took in 2010.
In addition to the food bank’s employees, 57,000 volunteers help fill in the gaps each year. “It gives ‘herding cats’ a whole new meaning,” says Ginette. Volunteers sort food, perform clerical work, deliver food boxes, clean the facility and fill boxes, whatever task is at hand at the moment.
Volunteers come from all walks of life. Some are as young as five years of age. In the Food Box program, the same volunteer delivers the box to the same house each month. For some recipients, these volunteers may be their only visitors. “It’s more than just a food box for the recipients and the volunteers that deliver the boxes,” says Ginette. She told me the story of a family who delivered a box to a senior every month for nine years. When the recipient passed, the family paid the funeral expenses. “The relationships that form are phenomenal,” says Ginette.
How You Can Help
The food bank accepts donations in the form of food, money and time. You can donate and sign up for volunteer shifts online. Shifts are 90 minutes and run 9:30 am to noon Monday through Thursday, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm on Friday, and 8:00 am to 2:00 pm on Saturday. You can find more information here.