Angels Among Us: Family-Feeding Fridays

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Three friends bring food security to south Utah County through the Utah Food Bank’s Spanish Fork location

Every Friday morning since early Covid days in 2020, Spanish Fork’s 100 South has been lined with cars, minivans and SUVs ready to receive food from a team of volunteers distributing pallets of goods from the Utah Food Bank.

   Conspicuous in the process is three people in red safety vests and holding walkie-talkies. They are husband and wife Carlos and Mariana Santiago and their friend Teresa Avila. These three are the heart and soul — and brains and muscle — of this new distribution point for the food bank.

   The idea stemmed from Carlos’ work as an Uber driver. He would get calls from people in Orem looking for a ride and would see the line of people getting food. He would occasionally pick up some goods for his family.

But the lines were long and the drive was inconvenient. It was during a barbecue that Carlos, Mariana and Teresa had the idea to bring the Utah Food Bank to Spanish Fork.

   “I got the information of who to contact and reached out to them,” Mariana says. “They weren’t sure it would work. Someone else had tried to do one in Spanish Fork before and it didn’t work. Plus, Tabitha’s Way is in Spanish Fork and does a great job at helping families in need, too.”

   Throw in the fact that finding and maintaining a volunteer work force is a difficult task. But the three determined faces behind the Spanish Fork location have been the key.

   Carlos, Mariana and Teresa reached out to local leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and received permission to host the food bank at a local chapel on a main road. The church building is dedicated to young single adults with a larger-than-normal parking lot and few homes that would be affected by traffic. The team procured shade tents, storage facilities, parking cones, communication devices and safety equipment. Simply put — they wouldn’t let this idea fail. They WOULD bring the food bank to south county.

   “It took us about three weeks to work out the details, but we were ready,” Mariana says.

   That first Friday, the Spanish Fork location was staffed with 20 volunteers (many of whom continue to help each Friday) and gave food to more than 100 families. Now, the location routinely helps more than 500 families be more food secure each week.

   Carlos and Mariana are both originally from Mexico City and Teresa is from Veracruz, Mexico, and all feel a pull to help their Latino community members, but also find that more than half of those who use the food bank are white.

   “The main reason we do this is to provide service to our community,” Mariana says. “We have been welcomed here and want to do all we can to make others feel welcome.”

    For Teresa, despite speaking limited English, she has found it easy to connect with English-speaking neighbors and loves the chance to serve those who serve her.

   But for all three, the sacrifice that comes from volunteering every Friday has brought financial and emotional stability.

   “Since we’ve been doing the food bank, we have had all that we need,” Carlos says. “We’re giving up our jobs every Friday to serve, but we’re getting more work because we’re helping people. We are a more healthy family.”

How to Help

Volunteers are always needed at the Spanish Fork location. Arrive at the Spanish Fork Utah YSA Stake Center (1138 West 100 South, Spanish Fork) Friday mornings (between 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m.) and assist with parking, distribution and clean up. Also, you can visit utahfoodbank.org to find out how to donate time, food or money.

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Greg Bennett

Greg Bennett is an editor and writer with Bennett Communications. His primary responsibilities are with Utah Valley Magazine and the company's custom publications division. He's the father of four children and has been married to his wife, Adria, for 19 years. Contact Greg at greg.utahvalley360@gmail.com.

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