Community Action Services and Food Bank has more than food for thought 08

Cans of soup are available Friday, Dec. 14, 2018, at Community Action Services and Food Bank in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

In December 2019, Community Action Services and Food Bank pantry provided food for 1,800 residents of Utah County. That’s 760 families, 115 of which received assistance for the first time. Our agency meets a lot of needs but the food pantry is often why these individuals and families first come through our doors. The pantry is set up a bit like a grocery store and is supplied by the food bank where donations are received and stored. The food pantry and food bank are integral to our mission to help Utah County individuals and families in need, and you can help.

The food pantry: Why people first come

Clients often have their first contact with us at the food pantry. The food pantry is set up like a market, with aisles through which clients can walk to select the food they would like. While other services at our agency aim to help clients become self-reliant for the long-term, the food pantry addresses the immediate need of food scarcity. We are proud to serve residents in Utah, Wasatch and Summit counties through our pantries in Provo, Heber, Kamas and Coalville.

Our food pantry uses the client choice model, which allows clients to choose the type and quantity of food (within limits) they want, just as they would in a grocery store. Some food pantries may have packages made up of a certain number of cans of soup or beans per household member. We’ve found that client choice helps individuals become self-reliant by giving them an opportunity to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. Also, if people are given food they don’t know how to use, it often goes to waste. Client choice prevents this from happening.

The food bank: Makes the food pantry possible

Remember those cans of corn you donated to that food drive last November? They likely went straight to a food bank. Food banks don’t distribute food directly to the hungry — they are warehouses storing food that will end up in local food pantries, charities and meal programs. Food banks are also the home base for delivery drivers to take the food to neighboring communities in need.

“Every food bank serves a specific area that varies in size,” says Tori Waite at Feeding America. “For example, Feeding San Diego serves only one county but this urban county is packed with over 3.3 million residents. While the St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance in Phoenix services nine of Arizona’s 15 counties, requiring their drivers to travel over 400 miles to deliver food. No matter how long or short the drive, every food bank is committed to ending hunger in their communities.”

I completely agree: we exist to meet both immediate needs and long-term needs, with the end goal of strengthening our whole community. But it starts with individuals, like Laura.

Laura’s story

It was Friday afternoon, and we were closing up Community Action Services and Food Bank for the week when Laura came through the door. We knew her, she was homeless and we had previously arranged for her to stay in a motel that night. But she needed food. With stacks and stacks of cans and boxes in the Food Pantry, I was nevertheless at a loss. Was there anything I could give her that would be ready to eat in her motel room?

When Laura came in that afternoon, I had only been working at Community Action Services for a few short weeks. I’d never before needed to provide food that could be easily eaten in a kitchen-less motel room. I racked my brain, mentally reviewing the generous donations that we had sorted through that day — boxes of dry pasta, cans of green beans. Suddenly, an image came to mind: a package of beef jerky in a barrel.

Earlier that day, a food pantry volunteer had come to me with a package of beef jerky, unsure where to put it because it wasn’t a common donation. I didn’t know where it should go, so we put it in a barrel for the moment. I didn’t think anything more of it until Laura came in that afternoon. The jerky was a good source of protein, it didn’t need to be cooked and I knew where it was.

How to get involved

In the few months I’ve been working at Community Action Services, I’ve seen this happen multiple times: the exact thing one of our customers needed showed up that day. So if you can donate, please consider donating. You may be the means of helping a neighbor in exactly the way they need to be helped.

Not sure what to give? A good tip is to choose one item and then think about how you would use it. For example, I usually eat peanut butter with honey or jam. So if you’re considering giving a few jars of peanut butter, jars of honey or jam would be a wonderful addition to your donation to help us provide families with delicious staples for their pantries.

And you can never go wrong with a cash donation. Even $1 goes a long way. In fact, we can use that dollar to provide approximately four meals to Utah County residents.

The food pantry and bank are a crucial first step for helping Utah County individuals and families overcome poverty, and people like you make all the difference. Consider donating food or cash to help your neighbors overcome hunger and begin the journey to self-reliance.

Richard Manning is the food bank manager of Community Action Services and Food Bank in Provo. CASFB is located at 815 S. Freedom Blvd., Suite 100. For more information on the educational programs, how to make donations, upcoming classes, food drives, and more, visit http://communityactionuc.org or call (801) 373-8200.