OGDEN -- Catholic Community Services Director Marcie Valdez was giving a tour of the Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank and showing her visitors a typical cart of food low-income people get to take home. "I started to cry," she said.
Standing by another such cart Friday, she showed why.
The basket was one-third full, maybe. It held a large bottle of clothing soap, a smattering of snack food packs, a couple boxes of crackers, a dozen cans of soup and pie filling, some bags of cookies, two squashed loaves of bread and a large bulb of garlic.
Looking for something to add, Valdez opened her industrial-size meat freezer, which is big enough to hold a couple of cows. All it had Friday was one box of sausages.
"Today is seniors day, so these will go."
The vegetable refrigerator, equally large, had three boxes of veggies.
A second freezer, brand new, intended to help expand the bank's capacity, had two small boxes of cheese bricks.
"We had some volunteers in the other day and they said it looked like we had more food for pets than for people," Valdez said.
Thanks to large donations from American Nutrition in Ogden, she does have a lot of pet food for clients' dogs and cats.
"But that should be extra, not 'instead-of,' " she said.
The food bank is nearly broke. Storerooms are lined with empty racks, empty pallets, empty refrigerators.
Large bins are full of bagged cans of food from local food drives, but those bins are deceptive. If this were a real bank, those bins would be the cash drawers, the money on hand. The vaults, where the savings should be, are empty.
Valdez now sees more than 1,800 clients per month.
A year ago, a busy day was 80 people. Now, Valdez said, a typical day is closer to 200.
"I think things are worse now than when the recession first started," she said. "And what's compounding the problem is, the food bank (in Salt Lake City, which supplies all of the state's local banks) is experiencing some real shortages."
Normally, Valdez said, clients get a grocery cart full of food from the Utah Food Bank and a grocery bag of food drive goods for each person in the family. Total allotment is usually 120 pounds of food.
However, deliveries from the Utah Food Bank, the core of what she gives people, have dropped by half.
She could make up by giving people more of the food drive goods, Valdez said, "but if I have to start doubling up on our food drive food, we could be out of food in as little as three weeks. I've never seen it this way before."
- USDA food has run out. That's canned meat, protein, staples -- typically 25 percent of all Valdez gives out.
"There is no USDA in Utah right now, and there won't be until October. I think the way it works is, each state is allotted so much and we just used up our allotment," she said.
- Corporate donations are down. "A lot of the companies that we rely on for our food donations are giving less," Valdez said.
"All businesses are trying to find ways to cut their expenses, so I think they're ordering differently so they don't have as much food to donate."
She does work with local grocery stores, taking expiring food and excess bread and other commodities, but "it's not enough."
In a typical month, she distributes 120,000 pounds of food, but local groceries only supply 40,000 pounds.
- Demand has soared. Each month for the last three months, there have been 100 new applicants.
"With the increases at the gas pump and the increases at the grocery stores, people who are on limited income, every time prices go up, it stretches their budget," Valdez said.
"They're exhausting all their support systems, like friends and family. A lot of people who were barely getting by a few months ago are no longer getting by."
Seniors are especially vulnerable. Subsidized meals at local senior centers were recently cut back from five days a week to four. Meals on Wheels has a waiting list.
Valdez delivers food to seven senior living centers.
"I'm really worried about those next week," she said. "If we can't get them a decent allotment of food, I'm afraid they're going to go without."
What to do?
Valdez is short of rice, beans, canned tuna, pasta, peanut butter, canned meat and soup. In combination, that's a nourishing and cheap meal.
This month, Harmon's grocery stores are letting customers buy pre-filled food bags of basic commodities. Zions Bank is collecting canned food through Aug. 19. And a canned food donation will get anyone into the Weber County Fair for only $1 admission on Thursday.
"Or," Valdez said, "people can bring donations to our warehouse any weekday, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.," at 2504 F Ave., Ogden.