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Food giveaway draws big turnout

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A multitude of people of varying ages and backgrounds began their quest for a Thanksgiving Day meal at 7 a.m. Wednesday.

They lined up early at the Indian Walk-in Center, 120 W. 1300 South, where Crossroads Urban Center held its annual turkey giveaway. Harmons and its grocery store customers provided some 3,300 turkeys.

The timely contributions come when food banks around the country are struggling to keep pace with the demand for basic commodities.

At the walk-in center, those who needed turkeys, potatoes and apples filled the parking lot to capacity. The line for food was the biggest in recent memory, according to Crossroads director Glen Bailey. He couldn't recall a line so long in his 17 years with the agency.

"It's the general state of the economy," he said.

Crossroads' Linda Hilton called the demand for services "record-setting." Wednesday's line was the longest she has seen in the 28 years with the center — and it continued to grow as the day progressed.

"With the economic situation, this has just been almost surreal," she said.

It was the poor economy that brought Sandra Arvardo to the giveaway — she lost her job and can't find another. Turkey, potatoes and apples will be the only thing on the Thanksgiving dinner menu for her and her four children.

Utah is 14th among states in overall food "insecurity" and fourth nationwide with respect to the percentage of people experiencing "very low" food security, according to the USDA, which defines insecurity as difficulty obtaining enough food to meet basic nutritional needs.

Paula Bell was among those having difficulty obtaining enough food.

"I don't have money," said Bell, who receives a disability check.

Because she is alone for Thanksgiving, she said, the food she received will last for two weeks.

In Utah, 12.5 percent of households (360,000 people) don't get enough to eat or skip meals because they lack resources.

John Needl said his resources are about to dry up. The manufacturing company where he works will soon close, and he is unsure about his financial future. Consequently, he went to the center to extend his family's budget.

"This'll help give us a boost for a few days," he said.

Some people interviewed said this was the first year they needed assistance, while others said they were out of work and couldn't afford holiday dinner. Some were trying to stretch their tight budgets. All said they were thankful for the help.

Bailey doesn't see economic hard times improving soon.

"I think 2009 is going to be a really long year," he said.

Donations to many U.S. food banks are not keeping pace with growing demand as the sour economy forces more people to seek help, charitable organizations say.

"We have seen a 100 percent increase in demand in the last year, and food donations have dropped precipitously," says Dana Wilkie, CEO of the Community Food Bank in Fresno, Calif.

The group, which distributes food to 200 food pantries and feeding centers, is supplying cheaper chickens instead of turkeys for Thanksgiving, she says.

Nationally, donations are up about 18 percent, but demand has grown by 25 percent to 40 percent, says Vicki Escarra, president of Feeding America, the U.S.'s largest hunger-relief charity. Feeding America, formerly called America's Second Harvest, has a network of 206 food banks that supplied food to more than 25 million people a year before the recent surge.

About 70 percent of new clients are making their first visit to a food bank, Escarra says.

Contributing: Tom Smart, Deseret News; USA Today

E-mail: lwilde@desnews.com