Food bank provides assistance to the area
Estimates are that nearly one in five San Juan County residents face hunger every day. One quarter of children may not know where their next meal is coming from.
The number of San Juan County residents facing hunger is much higher than national and statewide averages, reports the Utah Food Bank.
In the state, the estimate is closer to one in eight facing hunger. This highlights the dire need for a food program in this part of the state.
The Utah Food Bank alleviates much of that hunger with creative, agile solutions to rural areas like ours.
“Food assistance is in such demand in San Juan County that it requires us to be nimble and flexible,” said Ginette Bott, Utah Food Bank President and CEO.
“In order to reach this population with widely varying needs who typically have barriers to both accessing and utilizing food resources, we are committed to continuing and expanding our various distribution opportunities.”
There are seven Mobile Pantry distributions currently in San Juan County, three in-school pantries, three summer feeding sites, one kids cafe site, and one brick-and-mortar pantry.
To make the mobile food pantry program work, many hours of volunteer support and coordination is needed.
Cheryl Bowers, Blanding City Councilmember and Food Bank Coordinator, explained the work volunteers put into organizing and dispensing the Mobile Food Pantry shipment each month.
Bowers reviews paperwork from the prior month, which includes sign-ins from each family that received food.
The paperwork is sent to the Utah Food Bank, which is used to determine how much food the city will be sent the next month.
Every sign-in is important to ensure that the city receives the correct amount of food for the next month and every family who needs it is able to get food.
Volunteers spend hours every month helping dispense the food. For the past two months, volunteers have pre-filled boxes with the proper amount of food so families don’t have to wait in the cold.
While it is more work for the volunteers, it helps the line move faster and assists those who are unable to carry heavy boxes.
Bowers says of the volunteers, “I can’t even explain how grateful I am to the amazing volunteers we have in Blanding.
“This process is 100 percent volunteer. No one gets paid to be there; everyone does it to serve others. I have regular volunteers who come each month, and I couldn’t do it without them.”
When the regular volunteers are out of town Bowers knows she can also count on the citizens of Blanding to help out.
“This month, most of my regulars were going out of town for spring break, so I had to reach out to the community and ask for additional help,” said Bowers.
“So many great people messaged me and said they were willing to be there. The National Honor Society from San Juan High School also showed up, which made our ability to build food boxes go much faster.
“We have volunteers that range from over the age of 60 to 10 years old. We even have a gentleman who is battling cancer show up to volunteer because he knows how important this is.”
Plans for a more permanent food bank location to return to Blanding are materializing. When the food bank location in Blanding closed in 2017, 300 families were being fed each month.
Bowers reports that it’s difficult to find and fund a facility, so they made the decision to do a mobile food bank beginning in March 2018.
But the goal has always been to have a permanent location return to Blanding.
Bowers explains: “We know that once a month is not enough to avoid hunger. We are currently in talks with the former location of the food bank to reopen this facility.”
The San Juan Foundation has offered to trade rent with the owner of the former food bank location in Blanding.
A building used by the property owner in Monument Valley is owned by the San Juan Foundation. The San Juan Foundation will pay approximately $7,000 for this trade.
Once Bowers determines how they can fund monthly utilities, she is confident she can staff it with volunteers to be open one day per week. The permanent food bank can be opened as early as June 2020.
The impact the food pantry has on families is “incalculable,” says Bowers, “Having food in your house can act as a prevention for so many other impacts on our community such as drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, etc.
“Everyone has to eat, I do not want to see anyone go hungry, when there is something we can do to help.”
San Juan County residents have benefitted from the volunteer effort, generous donations, and flexible solutions afforded by the Utah Food Bank and the local communities.
The Utah Food Bank has been serving the citizens of San Juan County for approximately 20 years. In 2019 alone, the Mobile Pantry program served 29,814 clients in San Juan County – the equivalent of 9,578 households.
The Utah Food Bank distributes food free of charge to a network of 182 partner agencies located throughout all 29 counties of the state. They distributed 45.7 million pounds of food, the equivalent of 38 million meals, to people facing hunger across the state.