Utah food bank ‘dreams big’ amid growing population and growing needs

Governor Spencer Cox and Utah Food Bank President and CEO Ginette Botts participate in the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Utah Food Bank Center in Springville on Tuesday. (Ashley Fredde, KSL.com)

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SPRINGVILLE — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and organizations nationwide were forced to reassess, the Utah Food Bank noticed hunger in the state was changing.

The change forced the organization to “dream big” in order to meet a growing need. The first of those changes was marked Tuesday with the grand opening of the Utah Food Bank’s Timpanogos distribution center in Springville. The new center is the first in a multi-pronged expansion project to establish a network of distribution centers across the state.

“We started this project when we noticed the hunger around us was changing,” said Ginette Bott, president and CEO of Utah Food Bank. “When COVID-19 made us shut down and reevaluate and forced us to think about new options, I’m glad the people around us were brave enough to dream with us of what might be and then for them to find the courage to help us start this.”

The Timpanogos Distribution Center, located at 855 South and 1900 West, will allow the Utah Food Bank to offer previously unavailable services and programs and expand current programs in Utah County – such as food box programs for the homebound, after-school hot meals, educational sites, community and school mobile pantry programs, and grocery rescue.

While Salt Lake and Utah counties experience similar hunger rates, food resources are more accessible in Salt Lake, according to the Utah Food Bank. Despite being more than twice the size of Salt Lake County, Utah County is only served by seven food pantries.

The gap in food resources will continue to grow with the county’s population growing by 27.7% over the past 10 years.

The 10.6% of people and 11.2% of children who go hungry in Utah County will continue to increase the number of people in need as the population grows. Statewide regional expansion has led the Utah Food Bank to expand into many areas.

“It’s always amazing to have growth and to see change and to see expansion – whether it’s cities or counties – but with all of that then comes people who need help,” said Bott.

The Utah Food Bank’s multi-pronged plan includes expanding the Utah Food Bank’s West Wing, the Southern Distribution Center in St. George, the creation of the Southern Distribution Center -is in Blanding and two San Juan County pantries.

The plan aims to help the Utah Food Bank effectively meet growing needs, Bott said.

“We have over 70 vehicles on the road. Our fuel expense is our biggest expense, it’s not our food at the Utah Food Bank. We had to find a way to reduce that,” said Bott. “We still have to have our trucks, but they will just travel less miles – with this the money can be redirected. Hopefully we can buy different products, more food. We can be a better helper for the communities where we go if we don’t have to invest all our money in transportation.”

Population growth is a factor in increasing food resource needs, as are the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation.

“The increase in need or help changed so quickly and so dramatically at the onset of COVID. So many people who had been able to provide for their families who had never needed services like this find themselves in a situation where they need help,” Bott said. “And then inflation sets in. These families now – the same families – it’s almost a double whammy for lack of a better term.”

Rising inflation was also mentioned by Utah Governor Spencer Cox, who referred to “our nation’s struggles right now.”

“We are blessed to live in the most generous state in the nation. We lead the nation in charitable giving. We lead the nation in volunteerism and that helps offset those and yet we know that it’s still not enough and that’s why there’s a need for this building,” Cox said. “At the end of the day, this building is still just concrete and steel. What happens in this building is sacred, because people voluntarily give up their substance and people give up their time.”

For those who have forgotten what it’s like to struggle, Cox remembers being a young father of two, calculating prices at the grocery store.

“I hope we don’t forget and I hope you remember that there are still a lot of people going through this right now. This is an opportunity for us to help them,” Cox said.


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Ashley Fredde covers social services, minority communities and women’s issues for KSL.com. She also enjoys reporting on arts, culture and entertainment news. She graduated from the University of Arizona.

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