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Food bank nets 1.5 million pounds

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Things were touch and go for a while, but in the end the turkeys showed up.

And so did the canned goods and foodstuffs totaling 1.5 million pounds for the Utah Food Bank, which Wednesday ended its annual holiday food drive, the largest in the food bank's 25-year history.

The campaign was also noteworthy for including a wrong telephone number on donation bags distributed statewide and having to repeatedly call for turkeys for holiday dinners.

But 20,000 turkeys were ultimately donated, part of the 320,000 pounds of food in Salt Lake City and more than a million pounds raised across the state in a single day. The Day of Caring was organized by Alliance for Unity, which rallied local churches to participate in November.

The outstanding response matches the exceptional need this year: requests for emergency food assistance in Salt Lake City shot up by 28 percent over the same time last year, according to a survey of cities by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. It showed that 20 percent of requests for food could not be filled.

During the months of September and October, emergency food pantries in Salt Lake shortened hours, decreased the number of days they were open, and often ran out of food when they were open.

There were not only more new families turning to emergency food suppliers, they are much larger than usual, said Gina Cornea, executive director of Utahns Against Hunger, an advocacy group that tracks how many families Utah food banks serve each year.

"Previously there have not been larger families," Cornea said. "Now we're seeing huge leaps in the number of individuals, or family members, coming in and we don't know why. That could be a whole study right there."

Utahns Against Hunger also reports a 19 percent increase in Utah households surviving on food stamps, "which is a big jump over just one year."

The next food drive for the Utah Food Bank will be Scouting For Food scheduled March 29. Food donations in the meantime are still accepted at the bank, 1025 S. 700 West. For more information about donating call 887-1282.

E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com