How poor students in Utah can get food during the holidays

School vacations during vacations can bring joy to a student’s world as the three R’s of reading, rites and arithmetic give way to the three P’s: gifts, play and plenty.

For some youngsters, however, the Christmas break brings empty bellies.

Many Utah students depend on free or discounted lunches — or food from school supplies — for their daily nutrition.

“It’s great that they can get these programs in schools,” said Neil Rickard, child nutrition advocate at Utahns Against Hunger, “but if the kids can’t get into the schools, then obviously they won’t be able to get this food anymore. “

Depending on the school, the holiday break can start on December 19th and extend until January 6th. During this time, pantries generally step up their game, serving up hundreds of extra meals to fill the gap, Rickard said. It’s uncertain how many families will experience food insecurity during the holidays, but more than 645,000 Utah students qualified for free or discounted school meals in 2021.

They do not have access to these meals while schools are closed.

In some Wasatch Front school districts, such as B. Ogden’s, there is a disproportionate need for school meals. A 2021 report showed that nearly 64% of students qualified for subsidized lunches. Other large districts such as Granite and Salt Lake offered the program to 44% and 47% of their students, respectively.

Even wealthier counties have students who qualify, and in these wealthier areas, finding nearby emergency resources can be even more difficult.

General tools

“To close those gaps, if you don’t have a school lunch service, we need to see a lot more participation in programs like SNAP (formerly known as food stamps),” Rickards said, explaining that access to transportation, housing and other factors contribute to food security . “Things that aren’t necessarily connected but come from the same resources, either money or time for the families. And that ultimately affects the food security of children. It’s all part of a bigger picture.”

The Women, Infants, and Children program, which provides mothers and their children with supplemental nutrition, health care referrals, and nutritional education, could also help families with children under the age of 5, but it’s one of the most underutilized resources across the country.

Other non-food assistance includes 50% off Utah Transit Authority rides for low-income individuals and those participating in other assistance programs. UTA is also offering 10 free on-demand rides for their new app users in certain parts of southern Salt Lake County, the West Side of Salt Lake City, Tooele County, and South Davis County.

“There are many resources that the people of Utah could benefit from that they don’t have access to for one reason or another,” Rickard said, “and I’d love to see those barriers fall.”

School District Resources

The Tackle Hunger map is one of the most valuable resources the Granite School District provides to families in need of food, said Jadee Talbot, executive director of the Granite Education Foundation. People can search for nearby grocery supplies by zip code to meet their needs during the holiday break.

“Hunger is such a big problem that we know we don’t have the resources to cater to everyone,” Talbot said. “But we have great partners who are also running food supplies during the break and we want families to be able to access that.”

The foundation also provides food packages to families as they prepare for recess. For some households, every effort can make a difference.

“Probably more families are feeling the effects of all the different things that have been going on,” Talbot said, “especially the inflation.”

Throughout December, community learning centers at the Glendale and Rose Park schools in the Salt Lake School City school district will be holding lunch breaks, said Yándary Chatwin, the district’s communications director.

The food distribution events will be held in Glendale on December 15th from 1:30pm to 2:30pm and in Rose Park on December 19th from 2pm to 3pm.

The district is also offering SNAP contacts on December 13 and December 20 from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Glendale Learning Center to answer questions about qualifying and applying for this benefit. The Rose Park Contacts Session will be held on December 22nd from 4pm to 6pm

The Liberty Elementary Community Learning Center also hosts a pantry every Tuesday and Thursday from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. A food distribution table is also open at all times for those affected by food insecurity.

The Ogden School District has the MarketStar Student Resource Center, which provides families with a range of items — from school supplies to hygiene supplies, clothing and groceries, district spokesman Jer Bates said.

The center is open year-round and school counselors will identify households that need extra help during the winter break. According to Bates, the district also connects those in need with its partner, Catholic Community Services, which can provide long-term food aid.

“We recognize that food insecurity is not just a problem for many families in our community during the holiday season. It’s something that many of our families face year-round,” Bates said. “For that reason, we have put in place a system to identify families who have these needs to help them either directly through resources within the school district or in collaboration with our community partners to address these longer-term food insecurity issues.”

Contact the principals

Schools in the Jordan School District have pantries that remain open on weekdays for those affected by food insecurity, but they will close with the schools for the holidays. Families are encouraged to contact their schools before the winter break to access the resources. The district is also identifying students who need additional help to provide weekend grocery packages that include groceries and snacks, said Sandy Riesgraf, the district’s communications director.

“We encourage them to reach out to their principals before the winter break and let them know what they need,” Riesgraf said. “And our key pantries exist to help these families and if that’s not enough to commit them to what we can give them, they need to let us know so our key pantry managers can reach out to local community support systems.” ”

Some district schools also organize cereal drives to distribute breakfast to students during recess. Winter clothing such as coats, gloves, and hats are also available in the pantries.

“The demand we’re hearing this year is primarily for winter coats and warm clothing,” said Riesgraf. “So we really made an effort to get winter coats for students because we have a large refugee population in our district.”

Alix Cabrera is a Report for America Corps member and writes for The Salt Lake Tribune on the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. Your donation of our RFA grant helps her write stories like this; Please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here. How poor students in Utah can get food during the holidays

Justin Scacco

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