Sarah Lindquist, VISTA volunteer at Seekhaven, goes through food that had been donated by ALCO and is now being stored in the Seekhaven chapel for the 2013 Martin Luther King Day Food Drive Challenge. [Photo by Kristin Millis/ Moab Sun News]

This is not a Christmas food drive.

This is the Martin Luther Kind Day Food Drive Challenge.

There are several boxes throughout Moab for the month-long food drive that began Dec. 17 and will continue until Jan.17. All food will be donated to the Grand County Food Bank.

“The other food drives are to help supply the food bank to help families through the holidays,” said Adam Gregg, VISTA volunteer for the Retired Service Volunteer Program (RSVP). “This is meant to resupply the food bank after their reserves have been depleted through the holidays.”

Citizens and businesses are encouraged to donate non-perishable food items at collection bins labeled Team Moab throughout Moab. Ten VISTA volunteers now are serving in Moab with eight different non-profits through The Southeast VISTA Project to develop programming to alleviate poverty in the Moab area. The VISTA volunteer will be monitoring and emptying the drop boxes and store the food at the Seekhaven Chapel until Jan. 17.

On Jan. 17 all the donated food will be brought to the Sun Court on Center Street. There, the food will be counted and stacked into pyramids before it is taken to be weighed and distributed by the Grand County Food Bank.

The pyramid building spectacle at the Sun Court is meant to be a community event.

“We want this to be a fun thing,” Ellis said. “You get more out of it if you can have some fun doing it.”

This is the fourth Martin Luther Kind Day Food Challenge that Ellis has organized.

Last year 2402 items of food weighing 2131 pounds were collected. In 2011, 2678 items of food weighing 2043 pounds were collected.

Part of past year success has been a good-natured rivalry between the City of Moab and Grand County.

The City of Moab is starting out strong this year. As of Dec. 21, only a few days into the competition, it had already donated 1400 food items, Ellis said.

“We have found in the past that a little friendly competition provides an additional incentive for people to donate,” said city manager Donna Metzler.

Ruth Dillon, Grand County’s new administrator sounds like she up to the challenge.

“Friendly government competition is a great way to support a good cause,” she said. “Hmmm, who will win this year? Go County!”

Her office has sent out a memo to county employees to let them know about the competition between the city and county. County departments have also been encouraged to have their own drop boxes, should they chose.

Cash donations are also encouraged. Each dollar counts as seven food items. In 2011 the food drive earned $210 dollars, last year $895 was raised.

“Everything stays local. All of this goes to our food bank,” said Jody Ellis, RSVP director. “It goes to our neighbors, our community.”

The federal holiday Martin Luther King Day was established as a “Day of Service” in 1994 by the US Congress. Taking place each year on the third Monday in January, the MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service.

“It is considered a ‘day on, not a day off’,” Ellis said.

Sarah Lindquist said that she has met with families who are struggling to feed their families while working as a VISTA volunteer at Seekhaven.

“There is that feeling of desperation,” Lindquist said. “There is definitely a need.”

According to the 2010 census, more than 13 percent of Grand County residents fall under the poverty line. With a seasonal economy, unemployment rises dramatically in the winter, from an average of five percent during the summer to a record of nearly 19 percent in January 2011, according to the Department of Workforce Services.

Grand County Food Bank clients need to be referred by another social service agency, such as Workforce Services, a church or charitable organization. They also need to provide income verification and fill out an application. Clients who receive emergency food are required to apply for food stamps.