Demand on food banks is up, and so is giving |

Demand on food banks is up, and so is giving

Marielena Nava and Marisol Sandoval sort through boxes of donations at the Christian Center's food pantry on Monday. Photo by David Ryder

Demand on Summit County food banks skyrocketed in October as advocates praised the community this week for donating canned goods and produce in abundance.

Tim Dahlin of the Christian Center said supplies at one of Park City’s biggest pantries has been buoyed by 10 different holiday food drives, turkey giveaways and the steady giving of major grocers in town.

Dahlin greets about 45 families on an average day, but he sees as many as 60 now that the credit crisis has deepened into mortgage and banking crises as well. The groundswell started in July, when a surprising number of families, about 1,700, sought food from the Christian Center’s shelves. The number of visitors seeking food assistance topped 2,400 in September and continued to accelerate to 2,800 in October, about double what it had been two months before.

The pantry, which doles out about 120 bags of groceries a day, saw one-third more traffic this October compared to the same month last year.

What alarms some organizers isn’t just the volume of use. It’s also the surge in people seeking food assistance for the first time. Long thought the providence of migrant workers, mostly Latinos, a rising number of white families have turned to food banks for help stocking the fridge. About 30 percent of food-bank users at the Christian Center are white, the rest are Latino, Dahlin estimated.

Names began filling the roles at the Christian Center Monday even before the store opened. Volunteers uncrated cartons of milk, lettuce, tomatoes and chocolate cake. They hadn’t yet inventoried supplies before patrons eagerly stuffed them into plastic bags. Others waited patiently outside.

It was Narcisa Martinez Vargas’ second time at the pantry. She arrived with her daughters, ages one and two, and said she and her husband recently moved from Ogden because they thought it would be easier to find work in the tourism industry in Park City. She plans to get a job at a hotel in town, but so far, she and her husband are still waiting.

"Anecdotally, there’s a lot of job loss," Dahlin said. "The landscaping jobs are gone. Beyond jobs, there’s insecurity, so if people can supplement $50 of food for free they’ll do it."

Just as the Vargas family packed up, a woman wearing a cable knit sweater, dress pants and high-heeled boots arrived. In another time, she may have been simply a concerned citizen visiting kindness upon the needy. Today, she needed groceries.

Marisol Sandoval, who has worked at the pantry for two years, asked the woman if she had been to the food bank before. "Yes," she replied. "But not for a long time."

Sandoval had the woman sign the roles and helped her sort through cans of condensed tomato soup, chicken noodle and spaghetti-and-meatballs to find what she needed. She left with bags of green peppers, bananas, avocados and grapes.

"I see people I don’t think are going to come to the food bank, all kinds of people, not just low income," Sandoval mused.

The food goes fast, but Sandoval isn’t worried. Monday’s donations were large. Take the 45 cartons of two-percent fat milk from Whole Foods. "That’s enough for one carton for every family that comes in today," she said.

Meeting the need As the need for food has increased, so has the impetus to give. A wealth of grocery stores, churches and businesses decided to make food collection a top priority for the holidays.

"The need is huge this year," said Sarah Stewart, one of the organizers for Christmas in the Meadow Holiday Boutique. The annual indoor craft sale runs Nov. 22 and 23 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. "This is going to be a tough year for finding seasonal jobs."

Organizers are asking for a dollar at the door and will also be collecting cans of food to donate to the food pantry at St. Mary’s. The event, a tradition for some in Park City, features 50 local artists, craftsmen and bakers, including some favorites from the Farmer’s Market and Park Silly Sunday Market. "We were a little surprised how busy we were [with vendor interest]," Stewart said.

Heightened interest in the boutique may be, at least in part, because of the economy: The event at St. Mary’s is one of the last venues for locals to sell their wares, the last chance to connect with buyers before winter.

The boutique is just one example of many cases of giving, community members say. Kathy Wiehe, owner of My Time Fitness, a health club for women, decided to gather food so that pantries can stockpile supplies for the winter rush. Patrons who bring a can of nonperishable food to the gym by Nov. 23 will receive a free day pass to the gym.

"We like to help our local community first, and this time of year is critical to food drives," Wiehe said. "We’re seeing more people unable to give and more people needing food."

A more familiar name in the world of fundraising, The United Way of Salt Lake, launched a campaign to gather pocket change in jugs at Wells Fargo, Zions Bank, and Albertsons locations. Their goal is to raise $5 million the greater Salt Lake area, according to Judy Sobin, regional director for the Summit County United Way Office. "We’re trying to have everyone give a little to get a lot," she said.

The money will go toward a broad swatch of needs such as food, medical care and housing for those in need. "People at all different levels are feeling the impact of this economy," Sobin added. "My hope is to help people from getting into further trouble."

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