For Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, food insecurity is personal.
"It always breaks my heart to see students, kids that have to worry about their next meal," Gobert said Thursday. "I was one of those kids many years ago, so I know how important it was for me to receive some help."
The French basketball superstar's charity Rudy's Kids Foundation, along with Smith's Food and Drug and the Salt Lake Education Foundation, partnered to open up a food pantry Thursday at Northwest Middle School in the Rose Park neighborhood.
The pantry will serve an estimated 1,300 to 1,500 students and their families in the area, about 86% of whom are living below the poverty line, according to a news release from the Jazz.
Gobert cut the ribbon on the new pantry Thursday. He helped pass out food and supplies to students at the school, posing for photos with the kids. Students commemorated the occasion with a Fijian dance performance from the Northwest Multicultural Dancers.
Even though the pantry didn't officially open until Thursday, it had already been put to use, said Northwest Middle School Principal Andrea Seminario.
A few days ago, dancers stayed late after school to practice for Thursday's performance, Seminario said. When the practice was over, the kids were hungry, so they ran down the hall to the pantry to get some sustenance, she said.
"As a mother and as a principal, my heart was so full that day," Seminario said. "If you think about it, it's a middle school, right? It's full of hungry, growing teens. So food is really, really important."
Among the school's 655 enrolled students, about 70% are Latino and another 20% are Pacific Islanders, Seminario said. About a third of the student body are English-language learners, she added.
"It means that access to a food pantry and a family center is essential," she said.
Walking around the school's commons area during lunch, she often hears kids ask her for a second lunch or a snack because they're still hungry, Seminario said. So she was sad that the school didn't have a food pantry.
Seminario also said a student came up to her several days ago and asked if she could have some diapers and baby formula for her newborn brother. The student's single mother was not able to go to the store, so Seminario went to the pantry and grabbed a few bags of supplies for her.
"That was another family we were able to help, even though officially our pantry hadn't opened," Seminario said. "And that's the kind of direct impact that Rudy Gobert, Smith's and the Salt Lake (Education) Foundation is going to have on our Northwest community. We are so grateful and appreciative of that support."
Seminario pointed out that the benefits of the pantry will go beyond the student body and will help families and the community as a whole.
Gobert added that the food pantry will be an important resource for developing kids.
"When you're a kid you have dreams, you want to be able to chase your dreams," he said, "and not having food on the table makes it really hard."
Contributing: Mark Wetzel