Utahns are being asked to honor "Hunger Sabbath" and replace rapidly depleting emergency food supplies this weekend.

The Salt Lake County Commission, religious leaders and emergency food providers have designated Friday through Sunday, May 17-19, as Hunger Sabbath. Organized by Utahns Against Hunger and Crossroads Urban Center, the annual statewide event asks Utah's churches to collect commercially packaged food items for emergency-food agencies. Food can also be dropped off at senior citizen centers.The Salt Lake Food Bank, operated by the Community Services Council, is the state's largest emergency food clearinghouse.

The bank's shelves are far from bare, "but we're going through it much faster than we did just a year ago," said Richard K. Winters, director. "The demand for emergency food has increased and many of our traditional suppliers, like the LDS Church, are facing greater demand for their supplies, so they are not able to provide us with as much supplementary food as in the past."

The LDS Church's Humanitarian Service announced Tuesday it will donate $6,000 in food to boost the Hunger Sabbath effort.

"A food shortage has overtaken us in a way it hasn't for several years," said Steve Johnson, director of Utahns Against Hunger. "Pantries are having a difficult time maintaining adequate food supplies."

The annual Boy Scout food drive is the largest food-collecting event in Utah. Those supplies have generally lasted through the summer, but Winters said it won't stretch that far this year. In some parts of the state, like St. George and Price, the Boy Scout food drive proceeds are already gone.

"We're entering what's normally our busiest time and questioning the adequacy of the food supply," Johnson said. "We're concerned."

Most depleted, according to Winters, are the more expensive, high-protein foods that provide the foundation for an adequate emergency food package.

A sampling of food pantries by Utahns Against Hunger says the number of Utah families needing emergency food assistance nearly tripled between January 1985 and January 1991.

The non-profit, anti-hunger organization surveyed five of 16 food pantries in Salt Lake County and six in other parts of the state. The survey included Crossroads Urban Center, St. Marks Cathedral, Northwest CAP, Magna CAP and Copperview CAP. Pantries outside Salt Lake County were Bear River in Logan, Ogden CAP, Davis County in Farmington, Mountainland CAP in Provo, Carbon Country in Price and Central Utah Food Share in Richfield.

Those Salt Lake-area pantries distributed about 700 three-day emergency food packages in January, 1985; 935 in the entire state. By 1991, the pantries distributed 2,901 emergency food packages statewide each month. More than 2,000 of those were distributed in Salt Lake County, said Johnson.