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Advocates Say Charity Alone Can’t Solve Food Insecurity in Utah

Andrea Smardon
Volunteers hand out turkey dinners at the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake. (Nov. 25, 2015)

This time of year, many Utahns are giving away food to help those in need. But that need is there all year round. One in seven households in Utah struggled with hunger last year. Food insecurity persists in the Beehive State in spite of its robust economy and charitable citizens.

The line for turkey dinners at the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake wraps all the way around the building, and into the neighboring parking lot. This is Crossroads Urban Center’s annual event in partnership with Harmons Grocery Stores. In all, organizers say they’ll feed about 3700 households this year. It’s a good, generous feeling all around, but Crossroads Executive Director Glen Bailey says it’s important to remember why they’re here.

“As nice as this is and as good as it is to help people feel better both giving and receiving, it’s an ongoing problem that has to be addressed all year,” Bailey says.  He says more people have jobs since the recession, but they’re not making enough to pay all the bills. Crossroads pantry used to be for occasional emergencies, he says, but that’s changed. “Instead of people having an emergency periodically, but generally doing OK, more and more people now are counting on supplemental food to get by, and that does make me sad to see that change occur.”

Gina Cornia is Executive Director of Utahns Against Hunger. She says there’s a vulnerable group of people in the state who are persistently struggling to buy enough food to put on the table, even when they’re working full time or multiple jobs.

“It shows a flaw in the system that folks who are working low wages in mostly service sector jobs aren’t making enough to raise families and I think that’s the public policy puzzle that has to be solved,” Cornia says. She encourages Utahns who care about food insecurity, to look beyond the holidays and get engaged in the policy arena.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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