Kearns church among places distributing food boxes to Utahns in need

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Olivia S.halaeua volunteers, handing out food at The Point Church in Kearns on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020.

Kearns • The pandemic has been “real tough” for Angelia Jones.

The Murray resident usually makes a living selling jewelry at house parties, but those invites have largely dried up. And with less money coming in, Jones now has to worry about how to ensure her grandchildren don’t go hungry.

It’s “that stress of ‘Oh my god, where’s our next meal going to come from?’” she said. “Because you can’t really work. You can’t go out and do the things that you normally do.”

Jones and her two grandchildren were among hundreds of Utahns who came to The Point Church in Kearns early Saturday for the promise of a box of fresh meat and cheese and another filled with fruits and vegetables.

Getting a little extra help means “I know that they can have some meat tonight for dinner,” Jones told The Salt Lake Tribune as she and her grandchildren waited in line. “They always do, but I don’t have that stress for at least a few days. So I’m really grateful.”

A few feet in front of her, volunteers shouted out the number of boxes needed for each car, then loaded them into trunks — the whole operation was contactless in an effort to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

”God bless you,” some of the volunteers would say, waving as the drivers pulled away uttering their own words of thanks.

The Point Church has always given out food to people in need on Saturday mornings, said Pastor Corey J. Hodges. But the operation has grown since the pandemic hit, thanks to a partnership with World Vision, which donated the food boxes.

The cars move in and out so fast and the volunteers are so busy that it’s difficult to know how many people come through each week, Hodges said. But last week, there were so many cars lined up that they stopped traffic on 5400 South. And on Saturday, they snaked through the neighborhood long before volunteers actually started passing out boxes.

“It’s a bittersweet thing,” Hodges said, looking at the long line of cars. “It’s like, you’re glad you’re able to help and be good neighbors and good Christians. But then you see the people and think, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of need out there.’ It makes you know how blessed you are.”

People come from all over Salt Lake County to get the food boxes, though Hodges said most come from the Kearns, West Valley City and Magna area. And while he may have expected to see many of the same people week after week, he said the faces are always changing.

Hodges has also been surprised at how many of those who are struggling come from middle-income America.

“Sometimes we think of poverty and we think of only a certain class of people,” he said. “But in the unique time we’re in, in the day of COVID, food security has become an issue for more than just people at the lower end of the economic spectrum.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Volunteers hand out food at The Point Church in Kearns on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020.

Almost three times as many Utahns as normal are filing unemployment claims each week, state numbers show, even as claims fell late last month to their lowest level since the pandemic began.

And a recent study by the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute estimates that the coronavirus will have lingering economic effects. Economic experts forecast that the coronavirus could cost Utah 73,000 nonagricultural jobs this year and shave an estimated $16 billion from its gross domestic product.

As part of its effort to help those who are struggling, Hodges estimates that the church has given out around 16,000 food boxes since the operation started four weeks ago. The Point Church gives out about 2,000 of those each week itself and has partnerships with other religious organizations in the county to distribute the rest.

And while Hodges said there are some organizations that require people to give their ID, fill out a form or provide proof of need before they get help, the church has taken a different approach.

“I just assume that we’re going to do our part, our job, being responsible and we feel like that’s God’s job to monitor those who may be taking advantage,” he said. “I’m sure somebody might be taking advantage, but we’re not here for those people.”

Most of all, Hodges has seen a lot of need — probably even more than are actually seeking help.

The pastor recounted an interaction he had last week with a woman in the line who didn’t want to roll down her window at first. When she did, she acknowledged that she was embarrassed that she needed help, Hodges said.

“That just broke my heart,” he said, becoming briefly emotional. “It can be any one of us and the fact that you have to be embarrassed because you’re in need, I don’t know. It just really hurt me because it’s like, ‘Hey, there’s nothing wrong with you.’”

The encounter made him worry: “Are there people, are they home needing help and won’t come?”

But Hodges encouraged those who might have a difficult time accepting assistance from strangers to let go of their pride and come to the church for a box of fresh food so they don’t have to wake up hungry and fall asleep to the rumble of their stomachs.

“Get up and take advantage of the blessing that God was trying to put before you and receive it with joy,” he said. “And just be prepared to give back, because your time to give back will come. God will give you an opportunity to be the giver.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Volunteers hand out food at The Point Church in Kearns on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020.