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Feeding Utah homeless becoming a community project

SALT LAKE CITY — Frank Bixenmann, a South Dakota native, moved to Utah nine years ago. He’s been living on disability for the past seven years because he has terminal cancer, which has spread throughout his body.

Four months ago, his Salt Lake City apartment burned down. He lost everything.

“I got out in just what I was wearing that moment,” Bixenmann said, “which was just a pair of boxer shorts.”

He’s one of about 15,000 homeless people living in Utah at any given time, according to homeless advocates who say that as the recession lingers, more low income — as well as homeless families — will enter the black wrought iron gates of Catholic Community Services to use whatever services are available.

This gives Bixenmann hope.

“Without it, we'd be picking up bodies out here, and we have,” he said. “It breaks your heart when you have to go out and see a baby dead.”

Bixenmann volunteers at Catholic Community Services. He says some of the people who use the services live outside the gates of CCS on the streets.

“So they have no access to a lot of things,” he said. “We have a laundry room here. We have showers that don’t cost a thing.”

It costs roughly $35,000 a year to feed dinner to roughly 400 people a day. That is why after 20 years, the Salvation Army will no longer head up feeding dinners to needy families at the St. Vincent De Paul dining hall at Catholic Community Services.

Homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson said 15 church groups — all denominations, along with businesses, and individuals — will step in to keep the program going.

“We’re finding that people are very sympathetic,” Atkinson said, “to the fact that it does take money to serve an evening meal despite donations.”

The meals include soup, sandwiches, pastries and a drink. It may not sound substantial, but Atkinson says it makes a difference.

“We know that if people don't get nourished, they get sick,” she said. “If they're sick, they can't work. Their kids can't go to school and learn.”

The volunteer collaboration will donate food items, money and their time to provide dinners. Different groups sign up for days to serve meals. The churches and businesses will donate money and food items, and any other things CCS needs.

Atkinson said there is still a need to fill four more nights each month — and anyone can do it. All it takes is willing hands and the resources to make about 600 sandwiches or meals for your assigned day.

In addition to serving meals, the community volunteer effort hopes to expand into providing other case management services.

The Salvation Army will end its services on Sept. 30 and the community takes over the following day. The organization will then focus on feeding families out of its trucks on the west side of the valley.