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Local Food Banks Address Hunger, Food Insecurity

Cache County Community Food Pantry; Director Matt Whitaker walks through the aisles of the food bank's storage.
Kat Webb
Matt Whitaker, director of the Cache Community Food Pantry, said "We get way more donations in November and December than we’ll ever use in those months. But it’s perfect, because in January, February, March, I get hardly any donations."";s:

It's during November and December that the local food bank gets the majority of its donations for the year.

That's according to Matt Whitaker, the director of the Cache Community Food Pantry. He said, "Every year, we always get a spike in volunteers, but that’s OK because we get a spike in people that apply for the pantry."

Whitaker said the average client only comes to the pantry for about eight months. He added that some only need help for a two-to-three weeks, where some have outstanding medical bills and need assistance for a few months. 

“And then we have some who are going to be coming here the whole time they live in Cache Valley,” he said.

Seniors, like Debra Anderson, make up part of that population.

“We’re retired. We live on social security. By the time we pay rent and utilities, we have no money for food, so this is the only way — and we have a grandson living with us,” Anderson said. “We’ve been coming here for years. It just really helps us get through the month. Without it, I don’t know what would happen.”

According to Ginette Bolt, the president and CEO of the Utah Food Bank, “right now, about 12% of the population in the state of Utah is struggling with issues of hunger and food insecurity…and 1 in 7 of those are children. Here in Utah, we’ve always had larger families. And then the other end of that spectrum is seniors. We have a large population of seniors. I call them our bookends. We have those two groups on either end of the spectrum that need special help, and they need a lot of help.” 

Whitaker said the Community Food Pantry helps about 170 families a week, which translates to between 600-1,000 individuals a month. And that’s not including the thousands helped in conjunction with other agencies and non-profits in the area, like CAPSA and senior citizen groups.

He said part of the reason he’s stayed on with the pantry is the success stories of former clients.

“We’re here to help people get back on their feet. I love to be able to help people… to utilize our program and not come to the pantry,” Whitaker said. “We don’t want to increase our numbers so that we can present a story and get more donations. We’re here to help people get to where they don’t have to come to the pantry. People are happier when they’re on their own.”

He said it’s "fun to give a little extra," like how the pantry arranges for extra turkeys around Thanksgiving, or hams for Christmas. This year, there are even Christmas trees — decorated and donated by Utah State University after an event.

“Sometimes life happens,” Whitaker said. “We’re here to help that.”