This is usually the time of year when we start talking about kids going back to school, and how our Mobile School Pantry program is helping thousands of school kids dealing with food insecurity. This year things are different. Many kids aren’t heading back to school. Or if they are, it’s for fewer days a week. So we are making changes to our distribution process, because one thing that remains the same is there are thousands of children wondering where their next meal will come from, on top of the stress caused by parents losing jobs and all the changes brought about by the health crisis.
Before COVID-19, 1 in 7 Utah kids lacked adequate access to food. With COVID-19, that number is increasing rapidly, and hunger leads to devastating challenges for children. Research shows an association between insufficient food and delayed development in young children, with a higher risk of chronic illnesses like asthma and anemia; and behavioral problems like hyperactivity, anxiety, and aggression in school-age children.
As you may know, Utah’s public schools ended the school year in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, we quickly adjusted the Mobile School Pantry program to meet each school’s needs. For many schools, this meant changing distribution methods and items so that they could provide groceries at the same time they distributed free and reduced lunches. For the schools that lacked this capacity, we diverted Mobile School Pantry resources to bolster food deliveries to nearby food pantries and Mobile Pantry distributions. Despite this spring’s challenges, the Mobile School Pantry program had another impactful year, providing 862,680 pounds of food to 57,296 families at 84 schools across the Wasatch Front and in southern Utah.
While we are all uncertain what the coming school year will bring, we remain as committed to feeding kids as ever. Utah Food Bank is planning to provide Mobile School Pantry distributions in schools where it’s possible, while expanding in-school pantries at schools that can’t accommodate our traditional Mobile School Pantry. At schools offering in-person after-school programs, we will still be offering our Kids Cafe meals, which serve as dinner for many Utah children. In schools where Kids Cafe meals aren’t possible, we are providing a grab & go type meal for kids, where parents can pick up bagged meals to take home.
Because the health crisis is in such a state of flux, we will remain adaptive and flexible as the situation evolves. Regardless of what happens, Utah Food Bank will be here, providing food assistance to these students and families as they face unbelievable challenges.