ST. GEORGE, Utah — Ahead of their inauguration ceremony on Monday, Governor-elect Spencer Cox and Lt. Governor-elect Deidre Henderson spent time at the Utah Food Bank's southern Utah warehouse, filling boxes with donated food.
Utah's newest leaders, their families and senior staffers sorted donated cans into boxes to go out to hungry people in need. The "Day of Service" on Saturday was part of the incoming Cox-Henderson administration's call for Utahns to donate to the Utah Food Bank to help those in need. The governor-elect said altogether, they raised over $209,000.
Utah Food Bank CEO Ginette Bott told FOX 13 that demand for food has increased. Prior to March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and shut down many businesses, food pantries across Utah handed out a collective two million pounds of food per month.
After March? It skyrocketed to six million pounds and has yet to decline.
"It’s almost three times the demand. We have seen so many people who are first time users, people who have lost their jobs in the service industry," Bott said. "Some of which happened overnight and never had to ask for help before."
Bott said she was grateful for the Cox-Henderson administration's donation. They can stretch $1 to $8 through the nonprofit organization's buying power, helping hundreds of pantries across the state.
The "Day of Service" was part of the weekend's inauguration events with the first change in the governor's office in nearly 12 years (Gov. Gary Herbert decided to retire). Lt. Gov. Cox was elected in November to succeed him.
Gov.-elect Cox and Lt. Gov.-elect Henderson will take the oath in a socially-distant, outdoor ceremony on Monday at the Tuacahn Performing Arts Center in Ivins. The warmer temperatures of the St. George-area allow for it to happen. Attendees must test tegative for COVID-19 and be masked and physically-distant as well.
The ceremony away from the crowds of the Wasatch Front is also symbolic. Gov.-elect Cox, who has a farm in rural Utah, intentionally decided to move it away from Capitol Hill.
"I grew up here, and I’ve raised my kids here," he said of rural Utah. "And so I understand some of the nuances and things that make it unique."
Gov.-elect Cox will take office with some big issues facing the state. In an interview with FOX 13 on Saturday, he said he would keep existing COVID-19 restrictions in place, but also increase his administration's focus on speeding up vaccination distribution.
He backed getting rid of "essential workers" to prioritize age and risk in who gets the vaccine. On Saturday, the governor-elect said he suspected Utah was beginning to see a post-Christmas surge of COVID cases.
"We have to continue to re-examine everything, we really do," he said. "So we’ll monitor the surge. We are hoping to get more testing and every college student should be tested within the first 10 days of coming back to campus. We’ve given them the materials to do that."
Lt. Gov.-elect Henderson told FOX 13 in an interview Saturday that in addition to the pandemic, she would like to see the state do more to address equity. A champion of women's rights during her time in the Utah State Senate, she said she would also like a focus on "making sure we’re expanding equity and opportunity to all Utahns."
"We want to make sure those voices are heard, that people who may not have the same amount of opportunities because of education barriers, or other barriers, that we start solving those problems," she said.
Lt. Gov.-elect Henderson said she also wants to see education funding be dealt with, including more money to retain teachers. But she acknowledged money can only go so far.
"If we double the amount of money we spend on education, we still don’t solve these equity problems, these barrier problems," she said. "We’re still going to have the same troubles we have now."
In addition to the service projects, Gov.-elect Cox and Lt. Gov.-elect Henderson plan to attend several St. George-area churches of different faith traditions on Sunday as part of a "Day of Prayer."