Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Don HIll, right, house manager at The Rescue Mission of Salt Lake, unloads donated food from the Road Home's minivan Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011.
Chris Croswhite has spent the past few weeks engaged in something rare for the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake: car shopping.
The Rescue Mission is one of nine Utah nonprofits splitting more than $1 million from the Wal-Mart “Fighting Hunger Together” challenge, the Wal-Mart Foundation announced Thursday. Salt Lake City previously was named as the challenge winner, but Wal-Mart officials had not announced which agencies would receive funds.
The contest asked people on Facebook to “like” or “friend” their favorite of the 100 hungriest communities in the United States. Salt Lake City got the most votes to win the $1 million, with Ogden finishing fourth with a $100,000 prize.
The money will not buy food. Instead, the nonprofits are receiving help with much-needed infrastructure that will allow them to transport and store more food.
For the Rescue Mission, that means a new cargo van to haul donations, said Croswhite, the organization’s executive director. Many donors are happy to help with food, but “we have to have the infrastructure and the means to pick up and cook the meals, and be able to pick up and distribute the food.”
The Wal-Mart Foundation met with each agency to discuss its individual needs, said Jim Pugh, executive director of the Utah Food Bank, which is receiving $700,000 from the grant. All the agencies selected plan to use the money for items such as new transportation or cold storage.
The Food Bank, which serves pantries around the state, will get a semi-trailer, a box truck and a smaller multi-use vehicle to help shuttle food around the state. Warehouse efficiency is another focus, with plans for more forklifts, redesigned volunteer space and a new loading dock. The agency’s St. George branch gets the remaining money to build two 65 by 25-foot cold storage units to allow more fresh food to be distributed around southern Utah.
“We work with emergency food pantries. Most of those might be the size of your kitchen at home,” Pugh said, emphasizing the need for more space. “They can only hold a few days’ worth of supplies.”
Though food may seem the obvious need, pantries are often desperate for other items that help them function, and are not often donated, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Deisha Galberth explained. Buying items such as trucks and refrigerators will help recipients continue long-term operations.
The infrastructure should greatly expand the Grocery Rescue Program, in which Wal-Mart stores participate. Pantries visit retail stores several times a week to pick up donations of produce, dairy and meat that are three to four days from expiration and unlikely to sell, Pugh said. The network of trucks and cold storage can then quickly deliver those groceries to families in need. Pugh estimates one new semi-truck will add 10 to 12 additional stores a day.
“We’re the largest grocer in the United States” Galberth said. “It just makes sense for us to step up and try to help these families.”
The program has huge benefits, providing more nutritious food to families in need, said Marcie Valdez, northern Utah director for Catholic Community Services, which is receiving grants in Ogden and Salt Lake City. In addition to canned goods, her clients are now receiving two to three meat items each day, as well as lots of produce. Food is out there, Valdez said, it just needs to be picked up.
“There is enough food in Utah, and certainly in the U.S., that no one should have to go hungry,”Valdez said. “It’s just a matter of getting it to the people who need it.”
The agencies expressed thanks to Wal-Mart and Utahns who voted. The state has shown a commitment to fight hunger through small acts of service and volunteer hours, Pugh said, and pantries will continue to rely on them in the future.
“We’re not an organization that’s typically run off of million-dollar gifts,” Pugh said. “Small things make a difference.”
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert commended Utahns’ use of “Chicago-style” politics by voting early and often. The state’s 2.8 million residents managed to rack up 5.6 million votes. He, along with Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and Clearfield Mayor Don Wood, urge Utahns to continue finding small ways to serve others.
“We always need to look outside of ourselves and see where we can contribute,” Herbert said.
Fighting Hunger Together recipients
Salt Lake City
Catholic Community Services • $60,000 for a new refrigerated food truck
Rescue Mission of Salt Lake • $35,000 for a cargo van to transport food
St. Andrew’s Food Pantry • $25,000 for additional refrigerators, freezers and supplies
Salt Lake Community Action Partnership • $75,000 for supplies to serve breakfast and lunch to pre-school children and low-income families
Salt Lake County Aging Services Nutrition Program • $25,000 to modernize kitchen space and equipment
Utah Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program • $20,000 for free nutrition education
Utah Food Bank • $700,000 for refrigerated food truck, box truck and freezer and refrigerator space
Utahns Against Hunger • $60,000 to encourage local farmers markets to accept food stamps and participate in school breakfast and summer food programs
Catholic Community Services • $75,000 to buy one new refrigerated food truck and convert another truck for refrigeration
St. Anne’s Center • $25,000 to purchase one box truck