Salt Lake City, Utah – Some Utah families can’t wait for President Joe Biden’s initiative to extend free meals to 9 million more students by 2032.
Since the government program came to an end this school year, students had to qualify for free or reduced lunches. They haven’t had to pay for school lunches in the past two years.
A nearby charity group called USANA Kids Eat is attempting to meet the rising demand for school meals.
“We put out about 1,300 bags every single weekend. So, we’re packing constantly,” said Michelle Benedict, USANA Kids Eat director.
Students in Salt Lake County receive weekend food packs from the organization.
“We serve 40 schools on that program. We’re in most of the districts — Salt Lake, Granite, Canyons, Murray, Jordan,” Benedict said.
Depending on need, donors adopt a school and offer tens of thousands of meals per month. According to Benedict, demand has increased during the last two weeks.
“Right now, we’re at about 20% of our schools have asked to increase their bag number,” she said.
According to Benedict, 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.
Since the federal program for free and reduced lunches expired in the summer, Kelly Orton, the director of child nutrition for the Salt Lake City School District, said some families might not be aware that they must apply.
“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.
Speaking on behalf of the Granite School District, Ben Horsley said there hasn’t been a significant rise in applications this fall. They are actually lower than they were prior to the COVID-19 epidemic. The carryover period from last year has now finished, so they anticipate seeing more applications over the next 30 days.
Officials from the district emphasized that children who cannot afford lunch are not turned away. Parents can access services in the interim. “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.”