SALT LAKE CITY — The year 2020 has hit everyone hard, drastically increasing demand for assistance from Utah’s food pantries.
“So many people who had never been put in a position to ask for help before found themselves there,” said Ginette Bott, president and CEO of the Utah Food Bank. “Starting at the end of March and into April, the need just kind of skyrocketed.”
And it hasn’t diminished since then, she said.
Before the pandemic, the food bank distributed on average 2 million pounds of food per month; since April, it has distributed between 5 million and 6 million pounds per month.
Every holiday season brings renewed calls for assistance from nonprofits of all kinds, including organizations fighting hunger. It’s easy enough to find out how to donate food and money to these nonprofits, but for Utahns who actually need the help, how do they go about getting some?
The Utah Food Bank is partnered with, and helps stock the shelves of, food pantries and delivery services in all 29 Utah counties. By visiting utahfoodbank.org/get-help, Utahns can search for a pantry or program near them.
“It can really be specific to the kind of program that people are looking for,” Bott said, “If they’re looking for a pantry, or if they want to find out when a mobile pantry would be in their neighborhood, or if they qualify for a food box program, they can click on the specific icon, and then they’ll find a list of pantries; they’ll find addresses. On our mobile distribution, they’ll find dates and times when we’ll be distributing in your area. So it’s really, overall, a pretty comprehensive method to find something you could access right away.”
The site lists 33 different pantries in Salt Lake County alone, including some for Spanish-speaking communities.
Utahns without easy access to the internet, or who would like some direction in getting started can also call the information and referral line 211. “It is hosted through a call center at United Way,” Bott said, “and the person calling in simply has to tell the person on the phone, ‘This is where I live.’ The zip code will then help them access all sorts of services in their area.”
The specifics on what sort of food will be provided, and how often Utahns can return varies by pantry. Bott said the Utah Food Pantry distributes lots of canned goods, peanut butter, pasta, beans, rice and more.
“We recognize there are a lot of cultures in Utah that don’t eat the same kinds of food,” she said, “so we provide the best we can for what we have in stock. We are not in a position to provide everything that a family needs; we are simply here to supplement what a family can’t buy.”
And Bott said Utahns shouldn’t be worried when approaching a food pantry.
“You don’t have to have a Social Security number. You don’t have to have proof of income,” she said. “An emergency situation puts you in a position where you can go in ask for food, and the organizations we’re working with have agreed to give food to people. So people don’t need to be frightened or nervous or concerned about what they have to show, or take, to qualify for food.”
Bott encouraged Utahns to take care of their friends, family and neighbors this holiday season and point them toward help if necessary.
“If they see people who are in need or are struggling or might need help, you can casually make the suggestion that they can call 211, or go to a pantry. Sometimes people just don’t know where to start,” she said. “It’s hard to look at someone and see if they’re hungry, but sometimes you can look at someone, at their circumstances, and figure that food’s probably way down their list of things they can take care of.”