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Taylorsville Journal

Taylorsville Food Pantry thriving under volunteers from the city’s Intermountain Baptist Church

Feb 09, 2024 03:55PM ● By Carl Fauver

Dozens of Taylorsville’s Intermountain Baptist Church congregants have volunteered their time over the past year at the city’s food pantry. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)

Taylorsville Mayor Kristie Overson says, “They have exceeded our expectations. They are so friendly and loving. They are a Godsend.”

The city’s Community Outreach Coordinator Jay Ziolkowski adds, “Their performance grade is an A++.”

That high praise is being lavished upon the squadron of volunteers from the Intermountain Baptist Church (4770 S. 1950 West) who, for the past year, have volunteered their time on Fridays and Saturdays to provide thousands of families with a wide variety of provisions at the Taylorsville Food Pantry (4775 S. 1600 West).

“We distribute food at the pantry every Saturday starting at 10 a.m.,” volunteer manager Phil Knight said. “That’s when most of our volunteers are there – probably 12 to 15 every week. We also have a smaller crew of volunteers to take the food in on Fridays.”

Previously, paid food pantry operators distributed food multiple times each week. You might think cutting it back to a single weekly distribution would lead to some grumbling. But city and pantry officials say that has not been the case.

“We’re supposed to be open from 10 to noon on Saturdays,” Knight continued. “But instead, we are cutting the line off at noon. By the time we finish serving everyone it’s early afternoon.”

‘Red tape’ procedures required of each person receiving food have been streamlined under the new volunteers. For starters, they are now serving everyone who shows up – regardless of where they live. Before, due to the federal funding the previous operators received, food pantry provisions could only be handed out to people with proof of Taylorsville residency.

“On any given week, we have people here from Lehi to Ogden,” Knight said. “But we have never run out of food. I am volunteering my time because I want to serve anyone with a need. If they tried to require me to limit it to people living in a certain area, I’d have to leave.”

Kelly Ostler has attended Intermountain Baptist Church about eight years and is one of Knight’s most reliable weekly volunteers at the Taylorsville Food Pantry.

“I’ve never been married and have no children; so, I love being with my (congregational) ‘family’ every week,” Ostler said. “I have been homeless on a couple of occasions. I also did six months in jail once. But now I am proud to give back. I enjoy helping people in need. Before we start distributing food, I go up and down the line talking with people. I have gotten two people to start attending our church. I feel so blessed the Lord has given me this opportunity.”

Ostler adds, he’s also been ministering to people in Liberty Park – most of them suffering homelessness – for three years. And he recently purchased ten acres of land in eastern Utah he’s donating to his church, for a “spiritual retreat.”

Volunteer Jerry Bullock is not a member of the Baptist Church. Instead, he’s someone who occasionally needs assistance himself – and also takes pride in giving back.

“I have a sick wife who’s been unable to walk (due to Multiple Sclerosis) for 16 years,” Bullock explained. “I grew up in this area, attended Kearns High School and now live in Taylorsville. Sometimes we need assistance. So, I come to the pantry very early on Saturdays, put my bag in line to save my place and volunteer a couple of hours. The other volunteers are good to work with – and there is a better food selection now than in years past.”

Knight prides himself in helping to generate the wider selection of food that’s now typically available at the pantry.

“I chase down my own contacts to procure meat,” he said. “I have a strong connection with Daily’s Premium Meats. They are a pork producer and provided us with 17,000 pounds of bacon and hams just before Thanksgiving. Many Utah food pantries aren’t able to provide meat products at all. I’m always trying to find new food donors.”

Knight also spends time tracking down appliances to handle all of the pantry’s fresh foods.

“There were five refrigerators and freezers at the Taylorsville Food Pantry when we began volunteering here a year ago,” he said. “We’ve now added 12 more appliances that can either refrigerate or freeze, just by adjusting their temperature. I like to buy through school district auctions. We’ve purchased appliances from Jordan, Granite, Salt Lake and even Cache School District. I had to make a run up to Logan to pick up four large units.”

In their first year operating the pantry, Knight says they have served more than 6,000 households and nearly 22,000 people. Their busiest month, by far, was last November when 1,290 households received food, representing 4,942 family members.

“We told people we would be giving our volunteers a break over the holidays, and the pantry would not be open December 23 or 30,” Knight explained. “But we distributed more food than usual before those closures. That was a big reason why our November numbers were so high.” 

Intermountain Baptist Church volunteers got their start providing food to those in need nearly four years ago, during the pandemic. For several months, they distributed food boxes to hundreds of their members each month. So they had a bit of experience prior to Taylorsville City officials putting the word out in the fall of 2022 they needed new food pantry operators.

“We still provide the food pantry building and cover their electricity and other utilities,” Ziolkowski said. “But our city budget has not changed for the pantry operation under the new volunteers. The previous operators were able to pay a couple of people to work there through federal grants. Now, there are a lot more volunteers taking up that slack. The result has been a lot more food coming in and going out. I know we are serving a lot more families now.”

It’s gotten so busy at the Taylorsville Food Pantry, Knight says they are quickly outgrowing the facility. But, for now, they’re getting by with the refrigerator, freezer and shelf space they have.

“Mayor Overson has been down here several times while we are distributing food to talk with the people in line and to see how we are doing,” Knight said. “We appreciate the city’s support. The other day, I handed a man a package of bacon. He got a little teary-eyed as he told me, ‘I’ve not been able to afford bacon for 11 years.’ That’s why our church members volunteer here.” λ

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