PITTSFIELD — A tractor-trailer loaded with 40,000 pounds of nonperishable food is on its way from Utah to help keep people in the Berkshires from going hungry.
The semi left Tuesday from the national headquarters for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City, roughly 2,250 miles away. It is expected to arrive at the South Congregational Church on South Street around 9 a.m. Friday, according to church officials.
The 22 pallets packed with cases of canned goods will help replenish the empty shelves at the South Community Food Pantry at the church, serving some 700 households each week, according to pantry director Mary Wheat.
“We’re very excited about the donation. Despite all the deliveries we get each week, we have many empty shelves. This will help as we have a great need,” Wheat said. “In a month we’ll go through two-thirds of the food [from Utah].”
Aaron Buyack and his family have seen the need firsthand as volunteers at the food pantry. The bishop, or head, of the Pittsfield Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is excited by the cross-country donation.
“As we get into the summer, the kids are home from school and gas prices keep going up,” he said. “We’ll see more of need.”
Buyack says his wife, Christen Buyack, and Wheat first discussed in April the need to boost food contributions to the pantry. Christen Buyack contacted Chris George in Simsbury, Connecticut, who is the regional welfare and self-reliance manager for the national church. He in turn made a donation request to church officials in Salt Lake City after seeing the food pantry in action.
“I was surprised by the need,” he said. “They are doing a wonderful job.”
According to George, 90 percent of the food the church distributes across the country and overseas is produced by the church across the United States and shipped to Salt Lake City, where its stored until distribution.
“We grow and can our fruits and vegetables and we have canned meat as we have our own farms where we raise the animals,” he said. “The shelf life of our food is two to four years.”
The donation comes as Berkshire County food pantries struggle to keep up with the growing demand for their services.
Wheat said the South Community Food Pantry served 7,300 people in May — among the highest number in recent months. Prior to the pandemic, volunteers made roughly 100 home deliveries a week. That figure has swelled to 350.
In Great Barrington, the number of people served at The People’s Pantry has tripled since February 2020.
Overall, the Berkshires and all of Western Massachusetts saw food pantry visits rise 15 percent from January to March, said Lillian Baulding of the Western Massachusetts Food Bank. The county’s free meal kitchens alone saw a 34 percent increase in those attending.
Aaron Buyack is impressed with how Wheat and her volunteers keep up with the growing need for feeding the hungry.
“She’s very well organized. I’m amazed how they have down to a science how to feed people,” he said.
There was one logistical problem that needed to be worked out before the tractor trailer left Utah — how to unload the pallets.
Jonathan Sutherland answered the call. Sutherland, a dispatcher for Dettinger Lumber Co. in Pittsfield, offered his time and a company forklift to offload the food.
“Who could say no to helping out?” he said. “Anything we can do for the community.”