Banquet battles hunger in Utah

Students and community members attend the Bennion Center's Hunger Banquet in the Union Solitar room Tuesday night to discuss child hunger and listen to speakers. Photo by Brent Uberty/The Daily Utah Chronicle
Students and community members attend the Bennion Center’s Hunger Banquet in the Union Solitar room Tuesday night to discuss child hunger and listen to speakers. Photo by Brent Uberty/The Daily Utah Chronicle

One-fifth of the children in Utah do not know where their next meal is coming from.
The Bennion Community Service Center served soup and bread at Tuesday night’s Hunger Banquet in order to raise money and gather canned food for the Utah Food Bank in cooperation with the Alumni Association’s 20th annual food drive.
The banquet focused on the plight of children from low-income families in Utah, talking about the prevalence of hunger in the neighborhood and finding ways to help children in at-risk situations grow up feeling secure.
For most children, the needs start with the basics, but do not end there.
Erin Trenbeath-Murray, director of Salt Lake Head Start, a program that helps children from struggling families prepare for kindergarten, said those in the program were leaving at noon each day and not eating again. There are over 2,500 children in the program.
In recent years, the program directors decided to step away from buying pre-made and catered food and take matters into their own hands, providing more nutritious food and spending less.
“We’re now doing 2,000 meals,” Trenbeath-Murray said.
Although the program caters to children, it does not serve typical kid-friendly foods, such as corn dogs and pizza.
“Everything is made from scratch,” she said. “I walked in the other day, and there was a giant fish on the counter … our children are hungry, and they will eat a lot of diverse things.”
Students volunteering through the Bennion Center also pitch in to help children in poverty.
Natalie Blanton, a junior in sociology, and Gevon Guerra, a junior in political science and economics, volunteer as mentors at Bennion Elementary School.
“It’s really amazing, because some of these kids don’t have the most stable home situations,” Blanton said. “They are stoked to talk to someone about their day for an hour.”
The mentors help students with their homework and talk and play with them. For many of the children, these student volunteers are the only mentor figures they see during the week.
Guerra added that 90 percent of the children in their program are from low income families and live in at-risk situations.
Representatives from the Utah Food Bank recognized the U’s Food Drive as one of their biggest all year. Last year, the Alumni Association raised more than $85,000 for the bank, said Brandon Daniels, food drive coordinator for the Utah Food Bank.
When the temperature drops, snow begins to fly and Christmas music hits the radio, the food bank is flooded with phone calls from people offering to volunteer. While it can always use food, Daniels said opportunities to serve are limited during the holiday season because so many people are willing to give and serve.
But once the season ends, the need is still there, and the help disappears.
“Come December 26, you would be amazed that the need is still out there, but people don’t come,” he said. “Come January, February, March, [there is a] huge need for volunteers, but the calls drops dramatically.”
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