St. George • The Utah Food Bank on Wednesday belatedly dedicated a year-old branch in St. George that helps take care of the hungry through partner agencies in seven southern Utah counties.
"This will mean fresher and more available [food] products," said Linda Trujillo, manager of the 26,000-square-foot facility, which has space for a refrigerated room and a large walk-in freezer. "This will help us fill gaps that were in the counties. This will really help those communities."
The branch has been open since January 2011, but wasn't officially dedicated until Wednesday's ribbon cutting, staged among stacks of food on pallets.
Ginette Bott, chief marketing officer for Utah Food Bank, said products will be distributed to 45 partners authorized to distribute the food, including pantries and soup kitchens in Washington, Iron, Beaver, Millard, Garfield, Kane and San Juan counties.
Last year 4.5 million pounds of food was distributed in the southern region, including fresh produce and baked goods donated by area grocers.
Before the branch warehouse opened, food had to come from the organization's operation in Salt Lake City. Now, products such as produce donated in Arizona, for example, can be sent directly to the branch warehouse instead of to Salt Lake City first. That should save money on fuel.
Bott said the number of families receiving assistance, usually in the form of food boxes, has been growing, mostly because of the sour economy. "June, July and August are months of highest demand because children are out of school," she said. "It is also the time lowest in donations."
Adam Dunn, CEO of the Dixie Care and Share in St. George, said his agency gives food to about 4,000 needy people a month. It also serves hot meals to those staying temporarily at its 54-bed emergency shelter.
"Before we had to use our trucks to pick up donations, including from the grocery stores, but now the food bank does all of that," he said.
According to Karen Sendelback, the CEO of Utah Food Bank, which has operated for 107 years, 135 agency partners in Utah help distribute food products. To qualify as a partner, organizations must be nonprofit and operate under Feeding America standards and regulations. The St. George facility is the only other warehouse in the state outside Salt Lake City.
She said the St. George facility, located at 4416 S. River Road, will serve as a "testing ground" for other potential branch offices.
Betty Archambault, who works for an assistance program at Millcreek High School in St. George for alternative students, said the food program has improved student academic performance. But the bus passes, haircuts and blankets it provides also help. "We had one girl who was so grateful to get a blanket," she said. "Before, her only blanket was two towels pinned together."