By Marilyn Shelton
It’s summer, and that means the kids are out of school. But wait, according to the Utahns Against Hunger website, summer also means, “When school lets out, millions of low-income children [across the country] lose access to school breakfast, lunch, and after school meals.”
The Salt Lake City School District’s Summer Food Service Program fills this gap locally by providing free meals to children who might have limited access to nutritious food in the summer. Meals are served at 29 different public sites around Salt Lake City, including 17 schools and 12 parks, as well as the Main Library. Most of the sites are located on Salt Lake City’s west side.
The program is free for all children, ages 18 and under. No enrollment, paystubs nor proof of income is required. All children and families need to do is find a site near them and show up, explained Utahns Against Hunger Executive Director Gina Cornia.
Children can eat their free meals outside on the lawn or on picnic tables at the park or inside the school cafeteria, depending on the site location. Childcare is not provided. School sites serve breakfast and lunch, while the park sites only serve lunch. Adults may purchase meals for $3-$5.
Each meal is created by a dietician and also meets the nutritional menu guidelines and portioning set by the USDA. This means healthy baked not fried meals, whole grains, vegetables and more.
One mother eating lunch at Sherwood Park in early July said that her children preferred the meals served at the park. “When I make food at home, they are so picky, but they love the food here,” said Mary. “It helps with our budget, and the dishes, and gets the kids outside,” she added.
Utahns Against Hunger, a nonprofit anti-hunger organization that has been serving the state for 30-plus years, promotes child nutrition programs, like the state’s Summer Food Service Program, the National School Lunch Program, and the Utah Breakfast Expansion Team.
“[We are] not a food pantry, but rather an advocacy and outreach program whose mission is to increase access to food across Utah,” said Utahns Against Hunger Executive Director Gina Cornia.
It promotes these programs through social media outreach, flyers, press releases, and meetings with congressional delegates to educate them on the need to protect funding for federal Child Nutrition Programs, which are reimbursed through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Through the Utah Breakfast Expansion Team, Utahns Against Hunger was able to increase school breakfast participation by seven percent, said Cornia.
Child hunger statistics in Utah:
*According to Feeding America, a network of national food banks, 1 in 7 children in Utah faces hunger.
*National School Lunch Program data from 2018 revealed that 1 in 3 school children in Utah receive their meals for free or reduced price.
Cornia likes to have people call for information on The Summer Food Service Program because it gives them a chance to talk to them about additional resources such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps) or
Utahns Against Hunger has coordinated the acceptance of SNAP at over 20 Utah farmers markets as well. According to the USDA, SNAP redemptions at Utah farmers markets increased by over 1200 percent between 2008 and 2016, with the help of the organization.
“We [Utahns Against Hunger] started the Double Up Bucks Food Program, which allows people additional money to buy Utah-grown fruits and vegetables, so it is really a bonus for low-income people who use their SNAP to buy fresh produce because it creates new customers for farmers and then that money stays in the local economy,” Cornia said.
“We really just encourage the whole community to come out to ensure the anti-hunger initiative and to make sure that kids have access to healthy foods when school’s not in session...There are so many additional benefits our Summer Food Service Program can provide than just the meals themselves. It gets kids off the couch to the park or the library and to see other kids. That’s what we love to see,” said Matt Anderson, Child Nutrition Coordinator for the Utah State Board of Education.
The Salt Lake City School District’s Summer Food Service Program runs from June 10-Aug. 13. Times and days of operation may vary from site to site, so please inquire about days and times. All sites will be closed Wednesday, July 24.
To find a Summer Food Service Program site near you, text the word, “FOOD” to 877-877, call the Utahns Against Hunger Hotline toll-free at 1-800-453-FOOD, or to speak directly with Utahns Against Hunger Executive Director Cornia or her staff, call 801-328-2561.