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About Utah: Charity still answers to no one

And a big happy 100th birthday to the Community Services Council.

One of the nation's finest independent charities — nonprofit, nongovernment, nondiscriminatory — is officially a centenarian.

Now it can relate even better to those centenarians it serves.

A Century of Service Luncheon will be held today at the Little America Hotel ballroom, where humanitarian Alexander B. Morrison will give a speech and poet/author extraordinaire Emma Lou Thayne will pay tribute to the late Lowell Bennion, whose name has become a synonym for the words "selfless" and "service."

It was Lowell Bennion who, in 1974, supercharged the Salt Lake charity's efficiency by turning over almost all extraneous administrative functions to the United Way so the CSC could concentrate on doing what it set out to do in the first place: provide basic services of food and shelter to the poor and disadvantaged who would otherwise slip through the cracks.

The first meeting of what was originally called the Salt Lake Charity Association was held on the afternoon of Sunday, Oct. 23, 1904, at the Salt Lake Theater.

Numerous citizens beholden to no organization — religious, political or otherwise — came together to figure out how to identify and help the needy not being serviced by either their church or their government.

When the meeting ended, those in attendance delivered wood to families on the edge of winter with nothing to burn.

In essence, that same simple objective has guided the organization in each of the hundred years since.

For those who may have questioned in 1904 — and those today who still might question — whether there are many people who fit "between the cracks" in a place where the predominant religion boasts an extensive welfare program and the state doles out considerable relief to the needy, consider these numbers:

The CSC Utah Food Bank distributed 21 million pounds of food in 2003, filling 1.3 million requests from 260 pantries located throughout the state.

The Food Bank's Kid's Cafe delivers 2,000 hot meals a day at seven sites to youngsters after they come home from school.

The CSC Info Bank (dial 2-1-1) receives more than 4,000 calls each month.

The CSC Ability Bank and Life Care Bank helps maintain over 3,500 seniors and people with disabilities in their homes, assisting with home repairs, utility bills and other essential needs.

More than 850 food boxes are delivered monthly to homebound seniors in Salt Lake County alone.

Food drops of fresh, perishable product are delivered monthly at more than 45 low-income neighborhoods throughout the state.

All of the good works of the Food Bank, Ability Bank, Life Care Bank and Info Bank are accomplished by a small staff of dedicated, salaried professionals and a small army of dedicated, unsalaried volunteers. Last year, the number of volunteer hours contributed to CSC by individuals, church groups, service clubs and others amounted to the equivalent of 90 full-time staff positions.

And, of course, nothing would be possible without donations from thousands upon thousands of Utahns. Food pours onto the Utah Food Bank's shelves daily, and more than 12,000 people give $50 or less every year to the CSC.

It adds up to one of just three completely free community charities in America, as well as one of the most efficient.

Ask any centenarian. You don't get to be 100 if you're not in good shape.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to and faxes to 801-237-2527.