As School Year Ends, Free Summer Meals Help Fill Nutrition Gap in Utah
School is out for many children in Utah, and that means some of them are not getting the free meals they got during the school year. To fill that need, summer meals are now being served at over 200 sites across the state, but organizers say the program doesn’t reach as many families as they would like.
It’s lunchtime at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on the first day of the summer nutrition programs. One family is picking up pizza, carrots, milk, and Scooby Doo grahams. It’s free for the kids, but the mom pays a couple dollars so she can have pizza too. Her name is Emma.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit financially so this is great support to have for them,” Emma says, but almost as soon as she begins to talk about it, her eyes fill with tears as she looks across the table at her son and two young daughters eating lunch. “Sorry,” she says. “We’ve just been struggling to a little while and hope to get back on our feet. This helps us a lot to not have to worry about what they’re going to eat, so it means a lot to us.”
Marti Woolford is head of nutrition programs for Utahns Against Hunger. She says there are many families like Emma’s.
“When school is out, we know a lot of kids who receive free and reduced price lunch at school may struggle to have meals in the summertime,” Woolford says. “So the program is here to ensure that everyone has access to at least one meal a day.” But Woolford says the summer food program doesn’t reach as many children as they would like to reach.
A new national report shows that only about 10 low-income children in Utah ate summer meals for every 100 who ate school lunch during the regular school year. As a way to encourage more families to attend, the program is offering more enrichment activities along with meals, including physical fitness and literacy programs.