Amid the rising cost of Thanksgiving dinner, Southern Utah residents work to fill need

Southern Distribution Center for Utah Food Bank, St. George, Utah, November 2021 | Photo by Adele Park, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Southern Utah residents are feeling the pinch of higher food prices as they shop for Thanksgiving dinner. A new survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation indicates the price of turkey has skyrocketed a whopping 24% since last year. Most of the increase can be blamed on distribution headaches, inflation and problems predicting the demand for meat products.

Thanksgiving groceries, St. George, Utah, November 2021 | Photo by Adele Park, St. George News

Overall, the average cost of serving 10 people a Thanksgiving dinner is around $53.31 for a meal that includes turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, coffee, milk and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. The American Farm Bureau Federation said the overall cost of a Thanksgiving feast represents a 14% increase since 2020.

Helping the hungry

Higher prices at the grocery store are hitting some Southern Utah residents particularly hard. For instance, 1 in 7 children in Utah are unsure of where their next meal will come from.

“There are so many children in our own backyard who are not getting the nutrition they need, or even three meals a day,” said Linda Trujillo, director for the Utah Food Bank’s Southern Distribution Center. “We make sure we’re available to help them.”

The Utah Food Bank is affiliated with the Feeding America program, which provides grocery products from national vendors. Local grocery rescue efforts involve collecting fresh and perishable foods items nearing expiration dates.

Partnering with more than 200 statewide agencies such as Iron County Care and Share, Switchpoint Community Resource Center, and the Salvation Army, the Utah Food Bank distributed 58.5 million meals to Utah residents last year. This was made possible in large part through donations from the public. Trujillo said her organization can turn every dollar they receive into $8.03 worth of service.

Linda Trujillo and Angela Torres with the Utah Food Bank’s Southern Distribution Center, St George, Utah, November 2021 | Photo by Adele Park, St. George News

“When we say service, it’s the transportation, it’s the purchasing, it’s the food, it’s the whole service,” Trujillo said. “We can purchase by the trailer load or multiple trailer loads, which makes the cost go down to a lot less.”

The pandemic has only increased the need for services provided by the Utah Food Bank. Southern Distribution Center Operation Manager Angela Torres said one of the ways they are responding is through mobile food pantries.

“They are handed a couple of bags or a box of food with anywhere from eight to 10 different items,” Torres said.

During the work shutdown last year, Torres said mobile client participation increased around 40% in Washington County. Monthly food distribution services are offered statewide. In the five-county area, distributions are available in St. George, Washington, Hilldale, Cedar City, Kanab, Tropic and Beryl.

The mobile pantry service is intended to be a supplemental program that clients use in addition to the goods they may receive through partnering agencies. Recipients are asked to sign a financial self declaration form to qualify for the mobile pantry assistance.

Ride United Last Mile Deliveries

Transportation is one of the challenges contributing to food insecurity. Iron County is sprawled out over nearly 3,300 square miles, making it difficult for some people in outlying areas to get to agencies that provide emergency food.

To bridge the transportation gap, United Way partnered with DoorDash to deliver food to the needy. Peggy Green, executive director of Iron County Care and Share, said the program has been very helpful to the clients her organization serves.

Iron County Care and Share van, Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Iron County Care and Share, St. George News

“We are allowed a certain number of individuals each week who can receive a delivery by DoorDash,” Green said. “Anybody who is homebound or doesn’t have sufficient transportation is eligible.”

Green said between eight and 10 households in Iron County benefit from the United Last Mile program every week. For Thanksgiving, Iron County Care and Share is planning on providing 500 holiday food boxes. Green hopes to double the amount of holiday food boxes for Christmas.

In it together

When people don’t have enough to eat, it affects the overall health of the community. Organizations like Switchpoint Community Resource Center have become experts in taking small donations and turning them into programs that serve large numbers of people. For example, a $100 donation can be turned into 50 hot meals in the soup kitchen at Switchpoint.

“We hope people will consider donating to Switchpoint in honor of a loved one this holiday season,” said Kristen Clark, operations director at Switchpoint. “The impact is great and it goes directly to providing food and shelter for those that might otherwise go to bed hungry.”

Switchpoint Food Pantry
Food pantry at Switchpoint Community Resource Center, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Switchpoint, St. George News

Clark suggests making donations in the name of loved ones is a great gift idea. Recipients are given a personalized note outlining the value of their gift. Last year, the emergency food pantry at Switchpoint assisted more than 2,000 people.

Like all emergency food programs, Switchpoint is always in need of volunteers to help those who may be struggling to receive the food they need.

Give help or receive help

Holiday food prices may be higher this year and more people may be facing food insecurity, but there are many agencies in Southern Utah stepping up to help out. In the land of milk and honey, there is enough to go around if everyone works together.

Places to donate

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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