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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Utah tops list of hungry states, students no exception

One of the most common and commonly deflated stereotypes about the demographic of 20- to 24-year-olds is that of the starving college student.

Diets consisting of old pizza and textbook covers are often portrayed by the media as being the norm in college, and while most students know these depictions to be inaccurate, a panel discussion Tuesday at the Hinckley Institute of Politics highlighted the very real problem of hunger facing the state of Utah.

According to the panelists, studies released last year indicate that Utah maintains one of the highest hunger rates in the nation.

“Utah is the highest in the country in food insecurity,” said Gina Corina, a former U student and advocate at Utahns Against Hunger, a group that combats hunger in the state. “Every year we see increases [in the occurrence of hunger].”

Hunger is an issue that applies to the college demographic too, Corina said.

While it is often comically inferred that college students cannot go hungry because Top Ramen is so inexpensive, Corina said that college students deal with issues of nutrition and hunger just like everyone else.

“Those nutritional needs are still there,” she said. “Hungry kids can’t learn.”

Bill Tibbitts, a coordinator if the Anti-Hunger Action Committee, said Utah’s high rate of hunger can be seen first hand at the Crossroads Urban Center, where he works. Tibbitts said that the food pantry at the center regularly serves about 200 people daily, giving them food supplies and assistance whenever possible.

However, Tibbitts said that it is not enough to simply give food to those in need-it is necessary to understand why the food is needed in the first place.

“It doesn’t help just to give out food…if we don’t understand why people need the food. We’re dedicated to helping people find solutions to their hunger problems so they don’t have to come back to the food bank again,” Tibbitts said.

Tibbitts said that the food donated and provided to the hungry is not always nutritionally complete, though advocates do the best they can.

“We don’t have the facilities to store large amounts of fruits and vegetables,” he said.

The causes resulting in the recent double-digit percentage increase in hunger in Utah are several, according to the panel.

The most direct cause of hunger in Utah is economic.

“Utah is a state that, when the economy is down, people get anxious about food,” Tibbitts said. “During times of economic recession, the community is less prone to give money to charity.”

Corina also said that the troubled economy is primarily to blame for the increase, but that other factors also deserve consideration.

“Hunger is symptomatic of our economic problem,” Corina said. Corina also said that Utah is one of the only states that still places hefty taxes on food items-a practice that she said is problematic for low-income families and individuals.

The panelists said that in order to properly address the issue of hunger in Utah, it is necessary to address the issue of working poverty.

According to Tibbitts, 60 percent of jobs in Utah do not pay enough to raise a family of four above the poverty line. As a result of this working poverty, many of the families and individuals forced to seek help at food shelters and donation centers are in the lower middle class-a reality contrary to the common misconception that only the very poor go hungry.

For Tibbitts, the fact that Utah has such a high bankruptcy rate indicates that many are on the verge of poverty and hunger.

“The high bankruptcy rate indicates that many Utah families are living on the edge…paycheck to paycheck,” Tibbitts said.

In addition to the local options currently available to hungry Utahns-like the Crossroads Urban Center-federal options also exist.

The most notable federal option is the food-stamps program, which theoretically provides stamps that can be traded for food to individuals who do not have the money to purchase any.

However, there are problems with the food-stamps program.

“There is a stigma associated with the food-stamps program [which prohibits some from taking advantage of it],” Tibbitts said. “People don’t always want government assistance.”

Governmental outreach efforts that try and generate interest in the program are also lacking, Tibbitts said.

College students can qualify for food stamps under certain circumstance and can use the online resources at the Salt Lake Community Action Program’s Web site ( to determine their eligibility.

Anne Looser, a U senior and program director of the Bennion Community Service Center’s Homelessness Outreach Program, said that U students can and ought to make a positive impact on the hunger dilemma in Utah.

“As students, not only are we capable of eliminating hunger, but we are also responsible to do so,” Looser said.

Many of the opportunities U students have to fight hunger are offered by the Bennion Center.

“The Bennion Center is a wonderful opportunity for students to help serve the hungry community,” Looser said.

Shane Smith, program coordinator at the Bennion Center, said that while there is a variety of community outreach programs available through the center-ranging from alternative spring break trips to cooperative efforts with local food shelters-students can make a significant difference from their very own homes. “There are things people can do from their own homes, like donate food all year round, not just during the holidays,” he said.

Corina encouraged students to get involved in the public policy process.

“Students should know and understand the political process-they can make a difference,” she said.

Students can contact their local lawmakers and policy makers if they are concerned with or want to change the face of hunger in Utah.

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