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With food insecurity on the rise the Utah Food Bank completes its statewide expansion

The Utah Food Bank’s new Hurricane Valley pantry is the final building constructed as part of its Fighting Hunger Statewide Initiative, which started in 2021.
Courtesy Utah Food Bank
The Utah Food Bank’s new Hurricane Valley pantry is the final building constructed as part of its Fighting Hunger Statewide Initiative, which started in 2021.

One of the consequences of the pandemic was an increase in food insecurity in Utah and across the country. It was thought the increase in demand would go down once things reopened. It didn’t happen.

“We watched numbers during COVID go up. And that happened everywhere,” said Ginette Bott, CEO of the Utah Food Bank.

“But we were thinking we would see that when COVID kind of subsided and things return to somewhat normal, numbers would come down, but they haven't.”

The most recent data from Feeding America shows that 12.3% of Utahns are currently experiencing food insecurity. Palak Gupta, a hunger solutions specialist with Utah State University extension, said those numbers come from looking at whether people have a “sufficient amount of food and nutritionally adequate food.”

This presented a problem for the Utah Food Bank, which provides services across the state but is mostly based in St. George and Salt Lake City.

“Not only did we have to be geographically located to get to people faster, we had to be able to get to them with large quantities and we had to be able to get there more often,” Bott said.

So the Fighting Hunger Statewide Initiative was born.

This involved expanding the facilities in Salt Lake City and St. George, as well as new facilities in Springville and Blanding. New food pantries were also constructed in Montezuma Creek and the Monument and Hurricane valleys.

The now-completed expansion has made a big difference in the food bank’s ability to support people, particularly in rural areas.

“In San Juan, we were going down there one truckload at a time, once or twice a month. Now we have three pantries there, and they're open five days a week,” Bott said.

“People who travel across the reservation to get services, who have to drive three and four hours to get to a location that has food, know that when they go, they can go on any day of the week and have service available versus trying to plan their trip one time, one day once a month and hope they got there in time to get food.”

This has also allowed the food bank to provide those areas with things like fresh produce, which doesn’t travel well.

Gupta said this kind of support can help communities, but if you really want to root out food insecurity, it would have to be at systems level.”

This means addressing the underlying problems that cause food insecurity – like unemployment, low wages and the high cost of child care.

Tilda is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in the Central Utah bureau based out of Provo.
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