Local nonprofit provides lunches for Salt Lake County students
SALT LAKE CITY — President Joe Biden’s goal to expand free meals to 9 million more students by 2032 can’t come soon enough for some Utah families.
Students have had to apply for free or reduced meals this school year since the federal program ended. This is the first time in two years they’ve had to pay for school meals.
USANA Kids Eat, a local nonprofit organization, is trying to fill the growing need for feeding students.
“We put out about 1,300 bags every single weekend. So, we’re packing constantly,” said Michelle Benedict, USANA Kids Eat director.
The group provides weekend food bags for students in Salt Lake County.
“We serve 40 schools on that program. We’re in most of the districts — Salt Lake, Granite, Canyons, Murray, Jordan,” Benedict said.
Donors adopt a school and provide thousands of meals each month depending on need. Benedict said in the past two weeks, demand has gone up.
“Right now, we’re at about 20% of our schools have asked to increase their bag number,” she said
Benedict said new schools are trying to get help too.
“You have families out there that are paying or trying to pay for a lot of things — child care, health care, school lunch on top of it,” she explains.
Kelly Orton, the director of Salt Lake City School District’s child nutrition, said some families may not realize they have to apply for free or reduced lunch – since the federal program expired in the summer.
“We’re down 20% in applications that we had before the pandemic. We still have a lot of households that still need to apply,” Orton said.
In the Granite School District, spokesperson Ben Horsley said they haven’t seen a dramatic increase in applications this fall. In fact, they’re lower than before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, over the next 30 days, they expect to see more applications as the carryover period has ended from last year.
District officials stressed that if a child cannot pay for lunch, they’re not turned away. Meantime, there are resources parents can turn to.
“These families are really hurting. They’re really desperate,” Benedict said. “Being able to give them food that gets them through the weekend, it’s something that takes it off their bottom line.”
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