As schools begin to open their doors, kids across Utah are gearing up for another year of learning. Unfortunately, 1 in 5 of those children are not getting the nourishment their bodies need, and the impact of hunger on growth and development is startling. Food insecurity puts children at a serious disadvantage. It doesn’t just impact a child’s tummy- hunger hurts physically, mentally and emotionally.
Children facing hunger are more likely to be hospitalized and face higher risks of health conditions like anemia and asthma. And as they grow up, kids who missed meals are more likely to have problems in school and out. They are more likely to have to repeat a grade in elementary school, experience developmental impairments, and have more social and behavioral problems.
Utah Food Bank is committed to partnering with schools and after-school education sites across Utah to fight hunger. The school year allows for several different avenues for combating childhood hunger.
Our Kids Cafe program provides after-school meals in partnership with educational after-school sites at local elementary schools, Boys & Girls Clubs, and community centers. Last year alone, this program provided 484,234 meals to children at risk of hunger. Kids Cafe meals provide the kind of nutrition that grows healthy, resilient bodies and minds. It helps fill the nutrition gap that often exists during out-of-school hours for many children who rely on free or reduced-price meal programs during the school day. The objectives of the program are twofold: first, to ensure that the children most vulnerable to hunger receive an evening meal, and second, to provide balanced nutrition in each meal served.
Mobile School Pantries provide a monthly food distribution point on school playgrounds for students and their families and are completely free to the schools and their families in need. Last year, through distribution at 85 school sites, we reached 336,414 individuals. The Mobile School Pantry program approaches childhood hunger with the understanding that children are only truly protected from the pain and anxiety of hunger when their whole family has enough food to stay healthy. Teachers and school administrators report that this holistic approach creates better educational environments and a stronger sense of community among the student body and their families.
This year we will have fewer mobile school pantries, as schools whose student body needs more assistance than a monthly food distribution switch to in-school pantries. Last year we had 41 full-time pantries in schools, distributing 730,586 pounds of food to 82,380 children and their families.
We are excited for another school year to partner with schools and after-school partners across the state in ensuring that children have the nutrition they need to help them reach their full potential. However, given the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, we are cautiously optimistic that schools, and therefore our school programs, will be able to remain a consistent resource for children facing hunger. We pivoted when schools closed at the beginning of the pandemic, and even pivoted through this past summer, and are fully prepared to do so again to ensure that Utah’s children are fed. You can help by donating now!