The need for volunteers is equally as large as the need for canned food at the Utah Food Bank.
The Utah Food Bank, a non-profit organization that provides meals to those who suffer from hunger, has headquarters in Salt Lake City, but the organization is expanding in southern Utah.
“Utah Food Bank is responsible for the entire state of Utah, meaning we have to serve every county in the state for those folks who are in need,” said Ginette Bott, chief marketing officer for the Utah Food Bank. “If you think of the Utah Food Bank, think of kind of a wholesaler or distribution center.”
Bott said food is given to pantries or agencies within a community, and then those who are in need gather the product at specific locations.
Bott emphasized the importance of volunteer work at the organization.
“The warehouse in St. George has been there for two years, and we’re just starting to grow to a point where we’re in need of volunteers,” Bott said. “Volunteerism is very important to us. We couldn’t do what we do without volunteers.”
Located at 4416 S. River Road, the Southern Branch is open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Although the need for volunteers is growing, Bott said people have to understand projects are not made to accommodate volunteers, but rather the need for volunteers is most high when there is a project or an event held by the organization.
“[Volunteers] can’t just drop by because we don’t know from day to day what kind of work we have or when we’re going to be in need of help,” Bott said. “We need to know when we have projects, and we need to know when we have volunteers available.”
Linda Trujillo, Utah Food Bank Southern Branch manager, said it’s best to call at least several days in advance to schedule a time to volunteer. Students and community members can call ahead at 435-656-9122.
Volunteer work varies from tasks such as sorting and repacking food to sweeping floors and moving large pallets.
Trujillo said: “We need to maintain the building and the cleanliness of the building because we are a food establishment.”
Clerical work is also often needed, which includes entering information into a database or preparing thank-you notes. Volunteers must be at least age 15 due to the responsibilities.
Bott said volunteers would be used Monday through Thursday, and shifts are typically no longer than 90 minutes.
People can also organize their own food drive to benefit Utah Food Bank. Volunteers who organize a food drive create a team and choose a team name. Instructions for setting up a food drive are found at utahfoodbank.org.
“If you register online with us, it gives you suggestions on how to put your food drive together,” Bott said. “You can get some real helpful hints from our webpage.”
Because headquarters are in Salt Lake City, utahfoodbank.org is more pertinent to the northern Utah area, but Bott said as volunteering becomes more prevalent in St. George, the webpage will be suited to southern Utah as well.
Needs of the food bank include high-protein food, like tuna fish, peanut butter and canned food items. Vegetables low in sodium and fruit low in sugar or fructose is another need.
Trujillo said: “A lot of people think, ‘Well, I don’t have much to donate,’ but every can counts. Every single can counts.”
Bott said families like boxed meals such as macaroni and cheese or Hamburger Helper. Food is repacked into 2-pound, family-size servings. Individuals cannot get food from Utah Food Bank, but the organization provides other programs for individuals.
Trujillo said personal-care items, such as soap, deodorant and toilet paper are also important.
“There are so many people that you would not even know are in need,” Trujillo said. “It could be your neighbor. It could be your best friend. Because they don’t want to say anything, nobody knows.”
The Utah Food Bank offers a Food Box Program to senior citizens or disabled people who have no transportation. Each individual is provided one box a month with a variety of food.
There is also a Kids Café program, where meals are prepared and shipped to specific areas so kids can eat dinner. The Kids Café is a pre-approved after-school program offered in northern Utah, but plans are underway to start the program in southern Utah.
“We’re just starting to build projects in [St. George] where we can use volunteers,” Bott said. “Our need is growing. It’s much more now than it was two years ago when we first started.”