Rounding out a campaign that focused on service, faith and unity, Governor-elect Spencer Cox and the Utah Inauguration Commission have called on Utahns to contribute to the “One Utah Food Drive” to address food insecurity.
Though the Logan economy has been called “bulletproof” recently and still boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, there is still a great need in the area, according to Matt Whitaker, the director of the Cache Community Food Pantry.
“We’re serving a little over 200 families a week right now,” he said. “We’ve been holding steady, with a slight upward trend. We’re not jumping by leaps and bounds anymore, but there’s still a trend upward.”
According to Ginette Bolt, the CEO and president of the Utah Food Bank, about 2 million pounds of food were distributed throughout the state in April and May of 2019. During the same time in 2020, it was 6 million pounds per month due to the pandemic and related shutdowns.
“The need took off immediately,” she said.
There are an estimated 511,000 individuals in the state dealing with hunger or food insecurity in 2020. In 2019, 1 in 7 children and their families suffered from food insecurity. This year, it’s 1 in 5.
“So many people have come to us this year who were first-time users, like they had a job today, but they lost it and the need is for tomorrow,” Bolt said. “Then we have a lot of other people who were already struggling but have been forced to step up and ask for help.”
Bolt said one of the challenges of judging the need is that it’s often invisible, and the promise of keeping the donations in the community sends a great message of unity and stewardship.
Several local organizations and businesses have joined the cause, such as bedding company Malouf. Though its foundation usually does advocacy work against human trafficking, Director of Government Affairs Marlon Bateman said community service is also important to the company.
“We know this is a tough time with COVID, and the numbers are staggering how many Utahns are going hungry,” he said. “In May of this year, we held an online warehouse sale and donated nearly $30,000 to the Cache Community Food Pantry.”
Whitaker said November and December are typically the months where the food pantry sees the highest donations. Food donations are coming in much lower this year as most food drives fell victim to the pandemic, but monetary donations are up significantly.
“It’s good, because I’m able to take that extra money that we’re getting and go to the stores and purchase” the food that has previously been donated, he said. “And that way we can keep up with the families that are appealing to us for help.”
Bolt said while donations this time of year are generally high, the statewide food bank typically sees a decrease in clients due to the holidays as there are more local community efforts to address hunger and poverty. Then in January, there’s always an increase in people needing assistance.
“Families tend to spend a lot in December, and the dollars they have go to family traditions to make it special,” Bolt said. “Maybe it’s Santa Claus, maybe it’s a good dinner, but the money goes to try keep up the traditions they hold special. After the holidays, people go back to work, but they have to work two weeks before they’ll get a paycheck. People need product in the first part of the month.”
Chris Booth, the chair of the local Republican Party, has also rallied local “One Utah” participation. Like Bolt, he hopes the holiday generosity carries over to the rest of the year — especially after all of the hardships brought on by 2020, and is in talks to see whether this could become an event that happens multiple times a year rather than just once.
“We are just trying to help out and put some food on the table for people and help the different nonprofit organizations here in a county,” he said. “We’re certainly glad to lend our resources in any way we can.”
The One Utah drive goes through Jan. 4 — Inauguration Day — with the goal of reaching $125,000, or roughly enough to provide 511,000 meals. Monetary donations can be made online at either the Utah Food Bank or Cache Community Food Pantry websites.
Cache GOP is also accepting donations via Venmo (@CCRPDonate), with the goal to help other nonprofits, such as Families Feeding Families and the Cache Refugee and Immigrant Connection, depending on how much is donated.