Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Spotlight on Hunger: WYCD Interviews the Utah Food Bank in Salt Lake City

This holiday season, What You Can Do is teaming up with Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen to help raise awareness and fight hunger in New York City. As 1 in every 5 New Yorkers face hunger, Holy Apostles plays a crucial role in providing food, support and hope to people in need.  

The What You Can Do team is based in New York, so we have the opportunity to collaborate with many organizations inspiring change throughout our city. Since fans watch What You Can Do from around the world, we thought this holiday season would be a good time to highlight different perspectives on hunger. Over 49 million Americans are facing hunger today, with more than 15 million of that number being children. 

We interviewed representatives from food banks and hunger organizations across the country and in Canada, asking about involvement in their communities, services they offer, trends they are seeing in their communities etc. 

Our second spotlight this season is the Utah Food Bank, a hunger relief organization based out of Salt Lake City, Utah.

An interview with Heidi Cannella, Communications Specialist for the Utah Food Bank, in Salt Lake City.  

WYCD:  Please tell us a little about your organization and the community that you serve.

1 in 6 Utahns are at risk of missing at least one meal per day. This equates to 472,000 Utahns, or 17% of our population. Even more alarming is that 1 in 5 kids are unsure where their next meal is coming from. With the help of our generous supporters last year, we were able to distribute 36.3 million pounds of food, or the equivalent of over 28 million meals. We are not a direct distribution center, but instead distribute food to a statewide network of 130 partner agencies, who then distribute it to our clients.

WYCD:  How long have you been in operation?

Utah Food Bank was founded in 1904 as the Salt Lake Charity Association. Over its 100 years of operation under various names and in various forms, Utah Food Bank has remained committed to serving Utah's citizens in need.

WYCD:  What types of services do you provide to your community?

Utah Food Bank’s primary service is our emergency food assistance program, through which we distribute food to a statewide network of 130 partner agencies such as emergency food pantries, congregate feeding sites (i.e. soup kitchens), and partner agencies. Last year we distributed over 36.3 million pounds of food statewide - the equivalent of over 28.4 million meals. We have several direct service programs that we offer as well:

  • Kids Cafe: Utah Food Bank's Kids Cafe provides up to 1,730 hot, nutritious meals daily to children in low-income after-school programs at schools, community centers and after-school programs around Salt Lake County. We utilize 30 after-school sites to offer this service to kids who may go home and not be fed any dinner and were able to distribute over 200,000 meals in this manner.

  • BackPack Program: Through this program, Utah Food Bank provides packages of nutritious, nonperishable foods to many Utah schools. A designated school employee will load packs of food into children’s backpacks at the end of every week. The packs are filled with food items that are non-perishable, kid-friendly, and require little-to-no preparation and contain items such as milk, tuna, instant macaroni and cheese, canned pasta meals such as Spaghetti-Os, vegetables and fruit cups. When the child returns on Monday, they give the pack to the school who fill it again and send it home the following Friday. Last year we distributed over 69,000 backpacks to kids in Utah.

  •  UFB Food Box Program: Seniors, children and persons with disabilities are among the most vulnerable people UFB serves. Too often, daily expenses cut into limited retirement budgets, and seniors go hungry rather than neglect a utility bill or their medication. More than 3,600 low-income seniors and persons with disabilities receive a box of non-perishable food (and some perishables as they are available) each month from Utah Food Bank through the UFB Food Box Program. These boxes are hand-delivered by volunteers, and we distributed 41,195 food boxes statewide last year.

  • Mobile Pantry: We have a refrigerated vehicle that allows us to serve food items to populations who are underserved by brick and mortar pantries alone. This could be to a lack of available transportation. We pull up to a designated site (typically monthly), set out tables and food, then the line moves through as we distribute the food. Last year, we visited approximately 650 mobile pantry sites, which served an estimated 13,000 people.

WYCD:  Have the overall numbers of visitors changed in the last few years?

Unfortunately, we have no reliable source of data regarding the number of people we serve as our partner agencies are the ones who see our clients. There is a lot of duplication and cross-over (i.e. clients utilizing more than one service or pantry), so we actually don’t know how many people we serve. We do know that despite our efforts to fight hunger, we are continually expanding our distribution, so this tells us that the need is nowhere near solved. The way that we track the number of people we serve is through how many meals we serve, which has remained around an average of 28.3 million meals for the past two years.

WYCD:  Has the demographic of your visitors changed over the last several years?
(Are you seeing an increase in certain age groups, races, economic status, genders or the marital status of people needing your services?)

We do not track demographics for similar reasons as [the question before], but we are hearing that the people using our services are using them longer than in the past (it is taking longer for people to get back on their feet), and that a larger number of those we serve are working poor – they have so far to go to get caught up that they need more assistance than in the past. Another trend we are seeing is that people are underemployed – they may have gone back to work but with lower pay, so are unable to cover all their bills – sadly, food is typically the last expense that gets covered.

WYCD:  What are the most prevalent issues in your community, and do you feel that this reflects the current trends around the region?

Utah Food Bank strongly believes that our biggest issue is childhood hunger in our state, where 1 in 5 kids are unsure where their next meal will come from. With 1 in 6 Utahns living below the poverty level (roughly 472,000 people), we have a long way to go to help these kids, and their parents, to become food secure.

WYCD:  If you have volunteers, are you finding more people involved in helping out, and does it fluctuate throughout the year?

We see a continually increasing rise, year-over-year, in the number of volunteer hours that we use. Last year, we utilized over 103,000 volunteer hours, or the equivalent of 49 full-time employees. We could not distribute 36.3 million pounds of food if we had to pay 49 additional employees, so rely heavily on our volunteers. Our holiday time frame is our busiest time of year for volunteers, and spots can book up to a year in advance during the holidays. Summer is probably our slowest time for volunteers – people are busy with summer activities and also there are fewer school groups who come to volunteer.

WYCD:  Do you have special requests for the types of food/meals that you provide?

We almost always ask for food that is highly nutritious, low in sodium and sugar, and high in protein. Peanut butter, tuna, boxed meals, pasta, etc. Macaroni & cheese is always in high demand from the kids we serve. 

WYCD:  What are easy ways that your community can help out your organization even if they only have one minute of time to give? What if they have one hour to give?

We always ask for 3 things – food, time, or money. If someone has 1 minute to give, they can like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter – this will help them to become more aware of the issue of hunger. If they have 2 minutes, they could share one of our posts with their friends, thereby advocating for all those in need for our state, and spreading the word about our mission. People can text UTAH to 50555 to donate $10. Donating online only takes a few minutes, and the fact that we turn $1 into $8 worth of goods and services means that their financial donations go even further than donations of food. We even have a way to “shop” for specific food items online through our “Virtual Food Drive.” Another quick and easy way to help is by dropping off food donations at one of the many drop-off locations statewide. With more time, they could organize neighborhood or community group food drives, or even volunteer here at our warehouse or at one of our partner agencies.

We want to send many thanks to the Utah Food Bank team for sharing their insight on hunger in Utah with us. With hunger on the rise across the country in recent years, their team inspired us with ideas to spread awareness and help hungry people in our communities.

If you want to learn more about their work, you can visit the Utah Food Bank website at: www.utahfoodbank.org

If you want to learn more about Holy Apostles in New York City, you can visit their website at:

To join What You Can Do in the mission to help change the world, one minute at a time,
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