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COVID-19 Pandemic Triggers High Demand at Utah Food Banks

The Utah Food Bank distributes supplies to more than 200 charitable kitchens and pantries across the state. (kuarmungadd/Adobe Stock)
The Utah Food Bank distributes supplies to more than 200 charitable kitchens and pantries across the state. (kuarmungadd/Adobe Stock)
March 18, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's food banks, which already feed thousands of hungry people a day, are facing high demand and major challenges in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some reports in recent days have said mobile pantries operated by the Utah Food Bank have run out before serving everyone in line, and many volunteers have been scared away by the coronavirus crisis.

Heidi Cannella, communications coordinator for the Utah Food Bank, an umbrella organization that supplies kitchens and food pantries across the state, said the demand for food has doubled almost overnight, forcing some changes in the way they do things.

"We have 200 partner agencies right now," she said, "so they're all handling that a little bit differently -- limiting the number of people coming in, making sure people are sanitizing appropriately, taking food out to someone's car, if necessary."

At events, she said, they are taking Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safeguards such as metering lines of people to maintain social distancing and not allowing large crowds. They're also ensuring hygiene precautions, including hand-washing and protective gear, at distribution events.

Cannella said recent reports of grocery-store customers hoarding food and other products is concerning but doesn't make it more difficult for them to get supplies.

"Most of our food collection happens on a commercial level," she said. "For example, we're not going to the store necessarily, to purchase food from the shelves -- so we don't anticipate that being an issue."

In addition to feeding families dealing with lost jobs or cuts in work hours, Cannella said, her group is coordinating with Utah school districts so home-bound students have access to the breakfasts and lunches they normally receive on campus. She said she hopes Utahns will open their hearts -- and wallets -- to help food banks fulfill their mission.

"People say, 'What do you need right now?' We need volunteers, following the guidelines," she said. "But the other thing we need is financial support, because that will allow us to be flexible with how we're reaching our clients, our transportation costs."

To locate a food bank in your area or donate your time or money, look online at UtahFoodBank.org or call the Utah 211 Information and Referral line.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT