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Opinion: His only source of food was fish — but he also caught the hearts of two volunteers

If he caught a fish, he ate; if he didn’t, he went hungry. His story launched a food pantry

SHARE Opinion: His only source of food was fish — but he also caught the hearts of two volunteers
Volunteers Adeline Lopez and Mary-Lou Smulders hand out a free turkey and food for side dishes during a Thanksgiving giveaway.

Volunteers Adeline Lopez and Mary-Lou Smulders hand out a free turkey and food for side dishes during the Thanksgiving Giveaway, organized by Crossroads Urban Center and made possible with Harmons annual Give a Gobble fundraiser, in the Smith’s Ballpark parking lot in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

From all appearances, Devin (not his real name) was a “regular” working man. Employed by a local company, he had a job, a bicycle for transportation and a place to sleep every night. He went fishing in the local irrigation retention pond. What no one knew was that the dollars did not stretch far enough to buy food. If he caught a fish in the pond, he ate that day. If he didn’t, he went hungry. 

Mike Carter remembers being shocked when he learned Devin’s story. Carter had already been thinking about creating a “No Hunger Zone” in northern Utah County, and Devin’s story reinforced his commitment and made it all the more real. He and his VitalSmarts business partner Al Switzler joined together to found the North County Tabitha’s Way, a local food pantry for people experiencing food insecurity. They joined with Tabitha’s Way in Spanish Fork. This year, the two pantries have distributed almost four million pounds of food, while the number of clients served increased by 51%. 

Carter and Switzler represent two of Utah’s amazing volunteers. We have hundreds of thousands more.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Everybody can be great ... because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

“This is the vitality of volunteering; it is something that anyone can do — no matter where they live, their age, income, religious or cultural affiliation,” Gov. Spencer Cox affirmed. “Volunteering is a wonderful opportunity that is open to all of us, and there is a vast range of possibilities for volunteerism in Utah.”

Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, a member of the Utah Commission on Service and Volunteerism (UServeUtah), noted: “One trait that consistently sets our state apart is the commitment Utahns have to service. Utah leads the nation in volunteerism and is consistently ranked among the top states for both service and charitable giving.” Utah has held the top spot nationally for a number of years. 

The holiday season often inspires us to be generous towards our neighbors, but we may feel overwhelmed, too, with lengthy to-do lists. If you feel inspired to start a food pantry, go for it! But you can also take a donation to the local food pantry or even donate by rounding up your grocery tab when you are checking out at the store. 

If you want to sew, you can make pillowcases for children in the hospital, sew and stuff dolls and bears for donations around the world, make reusable feminine hygiene kits, or sew quilts, sleeping mats or receiving blankets

If you like to write, you can send cards or letters to deployed soldiers, or women in jail, or write grant applications.

If you want to help refugees in Utah, volunteer to help through Utah Refugee Services, Catholic Community Services, International Rescue Committee, Granite School District, Asian Association of Utah, Utah Refugee Connection, Allies 2 Refugees, Utah Valley Refugees, Cache Refugee and Immigrant Connection, One Refugee, Know Your Neighbor, and others.

You can give through “Light the World” giving machines, volunteer for Meals on Wheels (they need year-round support, as do many other organizations), Sub for Santa, participate in Angel Trees or help your neighbor across the street. There are as many opportunities as there are people and I could fill pages with the ways people can give and receive help, at home and around the world.

Monday, Dec. 5, was International Volunteers Day. In a year of incredible difficulty for the people of Ukraine, the world’s volunteers have been stepping up. From World Central Kitchen, to volunteers who hopped on a plane, to nations that crowdfund for drones, to people opening their homes, volunteers are everywhere. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an address on Monday that “Today, volunteers are the most powerful part of Ukrainian civil society. This is a movement that unites all cities and communities of our country and all social groups.” 

He also thanked the world: “This year, the whole world saw the incredible power of volunteers, their huge contribution to the approach of our victory. How they can raise funds for drones, ambulance vehicles, optics, thermal imagers in a matter of hours. How to get everything. Buy everything. Bring everything. And then get, buy and bring again, because that wasn’t everything. Ukraine appreciates the efforts of each of you. Thank you for your kind hearts and tireless work!” 

Let’s keep going.

Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy.