LAYTON -- Karen Crow wouldn't have a Thanksgiving dinner if not for the turkey, drinks, bread and bowls in her grocery basket Friday.
She had just loaded it up at the East Layton Family Connection Center Food Bank and was on her way back to her two children at their assisted housing home in Clearfield. Her food budget had been cut in half when the father of one child stopped supporting her, she said.
"Without assistance, I know I would be out on the street," she said, the first gusts of the night's big snow storm blowing in behind her.
But Crow is one of the lucky ones. Food pantries in the Top of Utah may not be able to give all of their clients a Thanksgiving dinner this holiday without a sudden rush of donations. The cost of a classic dinner went up this year, as did the number of families seeking food help, but donations didn't keep pace.
The Bountiful Community Food Pantry is still looking for at least 200 more turkeys to cover its needy households, said director Lorna Koci. The same goes for the East Layton Family Connection Center Food Bank, which serves the entire county. And the United Way of Northern Utah is only halfway to its goal of 1,500 turkeys or hams with only two days left in its annual drive for Weber County.
The need for that food is greater than they have faced in recent years. All of the shelters and food banks have had increases in the hundreds over last year. In the most dramatic jump, the Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank, a main provider in the Ogden area, has about 2,000 requests from households this Thanksgiving. It normally serves about 1,200.
"Utah's been a little bit insulated. Utah is just starting to see now what hit other states a year or two ago," said Ginette Bott, chief marketing director for Utah Food Bank. Setbacks like home foreclosures also take time to materialize, she added.
Some unemployed Utahns returned to the workforce since last holiday season, but at low-income wages, she said. "Donors last year are recipients this year."
The American Farm Bureau Federation reported last week that turkey and all the trimmings costs about 13 percent more this year than last. The trade group estimates a traditional meal for 10 people will cost $49.20 on average, $5.73 more than last year's $43.47.
The cost of the main course alone is a problem for Utah food pantries because the bird is less available this year than last, Bott said. A 16-pound turkey costs about $4 more this year, at $21.57, according to the trade group.
Not everyone is hurting. There are still hundreds of needy people who feel the benefit of a stranger's charity.
Shelters like the Ogden Rescue Mission and St. Anne's Center, smaller operations than the food pantries, have just managed to squeak by this year despite more people than ever depending on them. The Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank also has enough to meet it's registered househoulds, said director Marcie Valdez.
A food drive led to The Box Elder Community Food Pantry standing out as an exception amid the need in the Top of Utah. Everyone depending on them is covered, thanks to a Boy Scout drive that brought in about all of the food they needed for Thanksgiving, said director Linda Hansen.
"We can breathe now," she said.
Then there's Christmas, the fast-approaching second wave of need for the nonprofits. Barely able to meet the demands of Thanksgiving, they are concerned for December.
The Bountiful food pantry has nothing for Christmas at this point. The Layton community center is concerned that not only donations, but their dwindling budget, won't be enough to meet the demands of the holiday.
And the Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank still needs to fill about 1,000 gift baskets -- a main course like turkey or ham, plus all the trimmings.
Anyone who wants to donate food to their local pantry in time for Thanksgiving should do so by Monday or Tuesday morning, since it takes time for the organization to deliver the goods and for the family to prepare it, Bott said. She added that it's too late to donate food to Utah Food Bank in time for turkey day.
Whatever the food pantries' stores look like in any given time of year, needy individuals and families must speak up and seek assistance, Bott said.
"The worst thing people can do is not ask for help," she said.
People can anonymously call 2-1-1 toll-free and provide their ZIP code to find out what services are available in their neighborhood. The phone line is available Monday through Friday during normal business hours.