Local pantries struggle to meet the demand of COVID-19 virus in Utah

Story by ELLIE COOK

The hoarding situation that arose upon the arrival of the COVID-19 virus has only increased following the 5.7 earthquake that rattled the Salt Lake Valley on March 18, 2020. While the public hunts across the state for items such as toilet paper and paper towels, pantries in the community struggle to keep their shelves stocked to ensure those in need get the supplies not only needed for quarantine but also everyday survival. The organizations in the western area of Salt Lake City are scrambling to focus on inventory, while also having to serve many more people and adjust their protocols to meet safety needs implemented by the state of Utah. 

The community consists of many working-class and/or impoverished families, many of whom have a yearly income of less than $80,000 a year, said David Wright, director and educator of the Earth Community Garden & Food Pantry, in an email interview. Organizations that provide food security already serve a great population within the area, but the need only seems to be growing. The pantries have seen a significant increase in clientele since The Road Home, the main homeless shelter in Salt Lake City, closed downtown. Now as the virus forces more businesses to close, making the unemployment rates skyrocket and the earthquake damaging some homes, these organizations are struggling to find enough supplies and volunteers to tend to the large crowds pursuing their services. 

When asked about plans regarding situations such as natural disasters or other national emergencies, Captain Rob Lawler of The Salvation Army said in an email, “The Salvation Army has always been ready to respond to disasters and crisis since 1906 in Galveston, Texas, when we first responded as a response agency. You might say it is in our DNA!” 

However, it seems with the cards stacked against the state of Utah, just being prepared isn’t enough for anybody. While toiletries and other health/cleaning items are always in demand, the panic and hoarding issue the pandemic has caused has only made them even scarcer. “We do have an increased demand at this time,” said Kate Corr, the communications coordinator at Utah Community Action, in an email. “Right now, many clients are in greatest need of emergency services, primarily food, housing, and utility assistance. … At this time we will continue to do everything we can to keep providing essential emergency services to our children, families, and clients.”

While the inventory remains an issue, the ability to serve the community promptly has become hard as well, due to safety measures being taken to protect volunteers and the public. This becomes tough as everyone is short-staffed and in need of volunteers. It’s also time-consuming to take on new help because they must be screened to be sure they do not put people’s health at risk. 

Some organizations are no longer accepting new volunteers to protect current staff from exposure. “Our protocol is much more controlled and strict,” said David Wright. “We no longer have lines and instead are having clients with cars stay in their vehicles. Those without cars stay 10 feet away from each other.” The Earth Community Garden & Food Pantry, The Salvation Army and other organizations have also taken on drive-by pickup services. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic having an unknown end, and still in recovery from the earthquake, how can the public get help? Is there any assurance that people can get necessities, and also ensure that nonprofits can attend to the growing amount of clients? “As we see the fallout from businesses closing and people either losing jobs or having reduced work hours, our organization recommends that people consider applying for SNAP (otherwise known as food stamps),” said Gina Cornia, the executive director of Utahns Against Hunger, in an email. Utahns Against Hunger also provides lists of places where people can obtain essential items if they are not receiving an income. 

For the rest of us, any donations from food, cleaning supplies, and perhaps the most coveted item of all, some good old toilet paper, will be gladly received by any local pantry (please see list below). If you require assistance concerning food or other home essentials, reach out to Utahns Against Hunger or any of the listed sources. 

Earth Community Garden & Food Pantry

“We are looking for gardeners for this season. Growing your own, locally sourced food is proving to be more and more vital. Do not harm those around you. As an organization, we extend our services with no regards to; class, race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, gender identity, immigration status, or social/political ideology, and we encourage others to extend themselves and their services (groups or individually) in the same way.”

Utahns Against Hunger 

“The benefits people get to purchase food have an immediate positive impact on the economy and that money circulates throughout every community.”

The Salvation Army

“We are making about 400 meals a day to take home, we are operating 7 days a week.”