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Utah Food Bank mobile pantry in West Jordan runs out of food amid coronavirus need

Mele Massey, center, collects the few donations left from the Utah Food Bank at the parking lot of a chapel belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Taylorsville on Monday, March 16, 2020. Hundreds of people waited in line to receive the donations.
Mele Massey, center, collects the few donations left from the Utah Food Bank at the parking lot of a chapel belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Taylorsville on Monday, March 16, 2020. Hundreds of people waited in line to receive the donations.
Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

WEST JORDAN — Just under 1,000 people waited in line for essential groceries from the Utah Food Bank in West Jordan Monday afternoon, as Utah grocery stores struggle to restock food to keep up with demands fueled by the COVID-19 spread.

The food was distributed outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Bennion Stake Center through the food bank’s mobile pantry program. Residents — equipped with cardboard boxes, wagons, gloves and masks — began waiting in line well before the food was to be distributed at 4 p.m.

By 4:40 p.m., with people still waiting in line, the donations ran out.

Jacob Buhler, IT director for the Utah Food Bank, had planned for about 100 extra people to show up due to coronavirus concerns and loaded more food because of it, but he never expected the number to be anywhere near 1,000.

“Today, we thought, ‘Let’s bring (enough for) 250,’ and (hundreds) of people showed up,” he said.

Wheeling a small wagon, Elin Estrada, 31, of Salt Lake City, visited the church to get food for himself and his two children after hearing about it on Facebook.

He said he arrived at 3:50 p.m. and waited about an hour to get a bag of food, which contained cheetos, tomato sauce and butter.

Going to local grocery stores, he said, has been a frustrating experience, with empty shelves and a lack of essential items.

“You have the money, but you can’t buy the food,” he said.

Tyson Hyde, a Utah Food Bank truck driver, said a full truck load can carry a capacity of up to 43,000 pounds, and on Monday that truck was half full.

“It’s just stepped up this week because of the pandemic,” Hyde said.

Food bank volunteers filled cardboard boxes full of canned soups, cereal, peanut butter, cooked chicken and other non-perishable foods.

Buhler said he was grateful for the residents’ orderly conduct and civility.

“People were orderly and they didn’t shove or push and there was a lot of kindness,” he said. “But there was some disappointment for people who didn’t get food.”

Salt Lake City resident Natalia Geraldo received a few bags of food containing butter and corn for her family of five.

“What’s going on is that there isn’t food to buy in supermarkets,” she said in Spanish. “It’s time to go to the resources where they are at least donating to be able to take something to eat for the family.”

Since Friday, Taylorsville resident Sandra Bohorquez has visited Walmart, Smith’s Marketplace and WinCo Foods with little luck. Bohorquez said she, too, learned of the mobile pantry through Facebook and waited about 10 minutes to get her groceries — significantly less than the wait times other residents are facing in markets.

“There’s no food. There is absolutely nothing in supermarkets,” she said in Spanish, shrugging her shoulders. “It is vastly difficult.”

She called for people to have patience and to help one another, especially those in need.

As supplies from the truck ran low, volunteers began distributing bags of whatever food was left, according to Buhler. Those who arrived later weren’t so lucky, and 10 minutes after the food ran out and Utah Food Bank volunteers began to pack up, a man and child could be seen walking to their car pulling an empty wagon.

“It’s not good. It’s sad. We just ran out of food,” Buhler said, noting that the food bank truck was “completely empty.”

April Reynolds, 40, arrived with her 16-year-old daughter at about 5 p.m. only to find an empty parking lot where she was told the food donations had run out.

Reynolds pulled into the lot after spotting the Utah Food Bank truck parked outside the church building she used to formerly attend.

“We’re struggling pretty bad right now,” she said. She is supporting seven children and her mother at home.

“It’s hard to find everything that you need in the store, because everything is scarce. There’s no pasta and no canned food, which is pretty understandable,” Reynolds said.

She said she went to a Dollar Tree to find toilet paper, but employees were rationing portions. She’s most worried about caring for her mother, who is facing ongoing health issues.

Reynolds plans to visit the church again when volunteers come again next Monday, but will arrive much earlier.

“We’re going to continue to do this. We know that after this, people are losing jobs and this will be an ongoing thing. We can do this all summer long,” Buhler said.

Donations to the mobile pantry come from grocery stores, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other donors, according to Buhler. He said he hopes to bring more food when the food bank comes again in a week.

“Hopefully, we can figure out how to help people. At this time, the food bank is doing everything they can to provide,” he said.