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As inflation holds steady, one Utah County food bank predicts a great need in 2023

Utah County food banks, Tabitha's Way sign, Dec. 19, 2022
Curtis Booker
Tabitha's Way Food Pantry has two locations, in American Fork and Spanish Fork, and is among 7 food banks in Utah County.

On the Monday before Christmas, Shawna Mackay directed vehicles in and out of line at Tabitha's Way Local Food Pantry’s Christmas dinner giveaway. Families were able to grab items such as ham, rolls, vegetables, dessert and other necessities to prepare a hot holiday meal.

Mackay is a volunteer at the pantry's American Fork location. She said it all started for her five years ago helping a neighbor who was food insecure.

"So I started with coming in and bringing her and helping stock the shelves when she would get groceries. And so it means a lot to people who can't feed themselves to be able to get something to eat," said Mackay.

Now, she regularly volunteers her time running the deli table or wherever else she's needed. During her time as a volunteer, she has seen an uptick in people coming to the pantry for food.

"The numbers have skyrocketed, the number of families that we see every day. Like we used to see 35 families on Wednesday night. And we're more in the range of 60 or 70 in a two- or three-hour period now," Mackay said.

Leaders with Tabitha's Way echoed that sentiment. The pantry also has a location in Spanish Fork, and collectively they said they are seeing record numbers, providing food assistance for over 1,000 individuals each week, a 51% increase from 2021.

Utah County food banks, Tabitha's Way annual Christmas meal giveaway, Dec. 19, 2022
Curtis Booker
Tabitha’s Way Food Pantry holds its annual Christmas meal giveaway in American Fork, Utah, Dec. 19, 2022.

Kara Smith, community outreach coordinator for Tabitha's Way Food Pantry in American Fork, believes they could see even more of an increase in 2023.

"A lot of people [who] have never had to ask for help are coming to ask for help right now. And it's you know, it's hard for them to hurt their pride. But, of course, we're here to help them through a tough time," said Smith.

The pandemic’s part in U.S. food insecurity 

According to Feeding America, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted unemployment and food insecurity to soar. Fifty-three million people turned to food banks and community programs for food, and rising inflation has prolonged the need.

In their food security update published Dec. 19, the World Bank reports inflation is impacting families around the globe as domestic food prices remain high. Locally, Feeding America said 288,970 Utahns are facing hunger with 104,840 of those being children. According to the Utah Food Bank, there are seven food banks throughout Utah County, from Lehi to Spanish Fork. 

Pleasant Grove City Mayor Guy Fugal said food pantries are a great resource for Utah County families to lean on in a time of need.

“Inflation really had a big impact on a lot of our families. And we're just glad those that are really in need that we've got a thing like Tabitha's Way here and the people who help donate and the funds and everything for this," said Fugal.

He also believes the need will "continue on through the new year, through this winter. I think it's just, you know, utility bills are up and everything's up and people are just strapped to make ends meet and put food on the table."

But even as the need for assistance grows, Kara Smith wants people to know help is available for those who need it.

"We're open four days a week, sometimes five days a week. We're never going to turn anybody away."

Curtis Booker is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in Central Utah.
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