With the holiday season in full swing, students are getting time off from school to relax and enjoy time with family. For children suffering from food insecurity, though, this time can be anxiety-inducing as they may not know when or where their next meal is coming from.
One in 7 Utah children experiences food insecurity, according to the Utah Food Bank. Hungry children are more likely to be chronically absent from school and when they do attend, have a hard time concentrating. These children often feel powerless, afraid and hopeless,®r and all too often what little food they can access isn’t enough to provide the nutrition their developing bodies need.
Thankfully, many local Utah businesses and organizations are stepping up to combat child food insecurity during a time of need. Lehi-based Lendio last week donated a total of 2,600 boxes of cereal between Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and James E. Moss elementary schools. USANA Kids Eat, a local program designed to eliminate hunger in Utah schools, had its top leaders pack and donate 385 holiday food bags Thursday to be distributed to students at Meadowlark Elementary School in Salt Lake City.
The stop at Meadowlark Elementary was part of a larger project where USANA Kids Eat distributed 3,600 food bags throughout the Salt Lake Valley. The food bags contained enough nonperishable goods to last through the two-week holiday break.
“(The program) feeds hungry kids who are going home for the long, two-week Christmas break to empty cupboards,” said Michelle Benedict, director of the USANA Kids Eat program.
Benedict said that USANA acquired the Kids Eat program three years ago and its main program involves distributing weekend bags — 12,000 every week — for kids to take home over the weekend.
“We run seasonal projects and that’s what’s going on right now, the holiday bag project,” she said.
USANA pays for all of the administrative costs of the Kids Eat program, making it possible to operate. When it comes to the food, the program relies on community donations.
“It’s kind of a big community effort. We rely on the community for donations to pay for the food that goes in the bag,” Benedict said.
“It gives them that something extra to get through that holiday time. A lot of these kids kind of worry about the long break — they’re going home to empty cupboards and it seems like a long break for them when they’re used to getting their nutrition at school, they rely on that,” she said.
The program is especially helpful for Title I schools like Meadowlark Elementary, said Jacqie Spell, assistant principal at Meadowlark.
“We serve a very wide demographic population — there’s a strong need for support — when a person’s an hourly employee or they’re working on just that wage, when you’re out of work for the holiday you also don’t have that income, so this is providing yummy food for families,” said Spell.
“It means a lot to these kids — they’re tough — these kids are really resilient and we feel like our bags are support, something that keeps them going and gives them the fuel that they need to deal with the challenges that they have,” Benedict said.