Spring Break is supposed to be a time for relaxation, family vacations, and not worrying about anything school related. For Utah children who depend on school lunches, spring break presents a time of greater food insecurity. When children lose access to school meal programs during spring break, families must find a way to provide additional meals on already-tight budgets. Ten days is a long time to go without typically scheduled meals, especially for the most vulnerable, chronically hungry students who may have little to nothing to eat at home.
Children facing hunger are more likely to be hospitalized and suffer physical, emotional, and developmental impairments. All of this makes education—a central means of obtaining financial security—far more complex. The long-term effects are exceptionally costly; adults who experience hunger as children are less well-prepared mentally, emotionally, physically, and socially to perform in today’s workforce and educational environments. And then, the cycle repeats itself.
Megan Sandel is a pediatrician focusing on treating malnutrition issues in kids. She sees a lot of heartbroken parents in her office.
“They’re working sometimes two jobs,” she said. “They have this, you know, a young child that’s not growing the way you would expect on the growth curve. And the mom will break down in tears and say, ‘I just got my rent bill; the landlord is increasing it; I can’t keep up. And now I know that there’s going to be one less tool in the toolbox to try and help this kid grow and get back on the growth curve.'”
When growth curves suffer, so does the learning curve.
Utah Food Bank’s Childhood Hunger Programs
Utah Food Bank’s Mobile School Pantry program complements both school meal programs and our other childhood hunger programs. It provides a cost-effective food distribution point for children and their families at the end of the school day in a safe and trusted environment—the school playground.
Each month during the school year, our truck arrives on the school property, where Utah Food Bank staff and volunteers assist students and their parents as they sign in and receive food. The amount of food distributed varies depending on the availability of donated and purchased foods, but we attempt to provide as many healthy items as possible. The impact of this program has been astounding—last year, through distribution at 67 school sites, we reached 284,181 individuals, 156,193 of whom were children.
Utah Food Bank’s Kids Cafe is offered in partnership with educational after-school sites at local elementary schools, Boys & Girls Clubs, and community centers. 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.
Last year, our Kids Cafe Program provided 477,703 meals to children at risk of hunger at 108 sites where at least 50% of the children qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches. Participating sites offer not only a way to satiate hunger but also a safe place where children can participate in educational, recreational, and social activities under the supervision of trustworthy staff.
Where to get help
It’s hard to tell what’s more nourishing: a hot, nutritious meal or the knowledge that somebody cares. Utah Food Bank offers several programs to fill stomachs.
If you or someone you know is facing food insecurity, Call 2-1-1 Information and Referral to learn about resources in your local community that can help meet your needs, or click here to get help.
How to help
We can do multiple things to ensure that childhood hunger is minimal. We must do our part to keep the shelves at our local food banks and pantries stocked. Hosting a food drive or a fundraiser is a great way to support Utahns facing hunger.
Hunger doesn’t take a break, and neither can we. Don’t wait; take action today.