PROVO — A woman recently drove up to the Community Action Services food bank on Freedom Boulevard in a newer-model sport utility vehicle, seeking canned and dried food for her family.

Her husband had been laid off from Novell Inc., and with two SUV payments and a mortgage, putting food on the table became expensive, said food bank director Jim Thomas.

Thomas cites recent layoffs at companies in Utah County as one of the reasons behind the increase of people seeking food donations this holiday season. He estimates the increase to be "at least" 10-15 percent, and along with other leaders at Community Action Services, he increased the goal of Saturday's food drive from 250,000 pounds to 300,000 pounds.

Other reasons for the increase in need are recent hikes in energy prices, chronic illnesses and temporary setbacks such as underemployment, Thomas said. The philosophy of food bank organizers is to encourage people — when weighing the importance of buying food vs. paying medical bills, food vs. rent or food vs. utilities — to pay the latter and lean on the community for help with food.

About 300 volunteers in Utah County joined thousands of others throughout the state in the Alliance for Unity's food drive, which relies on numerous churches, and companies such as Smith's and Jiffy Lube, to collect and deliver food to local food banks.

"I think, before you can deal with people's spiritual needs, you have to deal with their physical needs," said the Rev. Dean Jackson of Provo's Rocky Canyon Church, an Assemblies of God congregation, whose church donates a percentage of its budget to Community Action Services.

Volunteers such as the Rev. Jackson were expected to work throughout the weekend at the 12,000-square-foot warehouse in Provo, the state's second-largest food bank.

The Community Action Services food bank distributes food to pantries, senior centers and other charities throughout Utah, Wasatch and Summit counties. It has its own food pantry, too. About 100 people a day seek food there.

Thomas has seen children grabbing from their parents and ripping open food packages before the family even leaves the food bank — "not because they're kids," he said, "but because they're hungry."

"The First Presidency sent out a letter to all congregations to support the food drives," said Donald Butler, a local authority of the Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "That's why I was asked to come. There are probably more than 2,000 wards in the area. That gives you a good base."


E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com