Summer Food Program provides free lunch for local children (with audio)

The Utah State Board of Education’s <a href=”http://www.schools.utah.gov/cnp/Summer-Food-Service-Program.aspx”>Summer Food Program</a> will benefit thousands of Cache Valley schoolchildren during the 2017 summer recess. Free lunchtime meals are available at 11 locations in Cache and Box Elder counties, serving children ages 18 and under from early June through late July or early August, depending on location. Free lunch is also being served in Preston, Idaho. The Summer Food Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“I’m grateful for the people that are putting it together to make it available,” said Matt Whitaker, director of the <a href=”http://cachefoodpantry.com/aboutus.html”>Cache Community Food Pantry</a>, “It takes a fair amount of work, a lot of coordination to get it going.”

Whitaker said the Summer Food Program is important because it frees up resources for families.

“During school, a lot of your low-income families and single parent families rely on school lunch to take care of the needs of their child during the day, and with school being over, that’s no longer available in most cases,” he said. “If it weren’t available, it would be another expense on their budget that they have to take care of.”

Paul Guymon, child nutrition coordinator for the <a href=”http://www.loganschools.org/”>Logan City School District</a>, said about 700 students are served by the district’s Summer Food Program each day. Hot lunches are provided to an average of 400 students per day at Mount Logan Middle School, with sack lunches being served at Adams Park and Willow Park in partnership with <a href=”http://www.loganutah.org/government/departments/parks_and_recreation/”>Logan City Parks &amp; Recreation’s</a> Summer Playground Program.

“This program’s super important to our community,” he said.  “A large percentage of Logan City School District is on free or reduced lunch, which means that they have some financial needs. Typically food is something that’s cut back on in a household, and we’re able to help with that.  If they qualify for free or reduced lunch, they’re either getting lunch for $.40 or lunch for free during the school year, and if you cut that benefit off during the summer, you could cause a financial hardship for the parents, which in turn could mean that kids are hungry. The statistic is one in five children have a food insecurity in Utah, and I would say we’re really no different than that in Logan School District.”

Guymon said participation in the Summer Food Program doesn’t require preregistration or income verification, and there are no geographical restrictions. Whether children are a year old or 18 years and 364 days, Guymon said they are welcome to visit a participating site to enjoy lunch any day meal service is offered.

“You just show up, and there’s a meal waiting for you,” he said. “I just think it’s a really good program. I encourage people to attend. It’s definitely something in the community that’s an advantage for parents.”

“One of the reasons we use Mount Logan Middle School,” he explained, “is it’s centrally located in our school district, and also the LTD has a bus stop right there. We have quite a few older kids that come and bring their younger siblings, so it’s open and definitely available.”

Gina, a Logan mother of seven, accompanied four of her children to lunch at Mount Logan Middle School on Monday, June 12.  The menu included chicken nuggets, vegetables, baked beans, fruit and milk.

“I appreciate the lunch program because the kids are able to have a hot lunch every day, and it helps with our food budget,” Gina said. “It gets us out of the house, and the lunch ladies are very kind. We like to be able to see them, and the kids get to see their friends. It’s a good time.”

Whitaker said the summer lunch program can benefit families like Gina’s tremendously, much like the food pantry.  Having the service available, he explained, allows people to apply the funds they would have spent on meals toward paying off bills, obtaining job training and working toward greater self-sufficiency.

“My whole purpose here at the food pantry is to provide food free of cost so that people can free up their budget,” he said.  “These meals, in essence, do the same thing. They’re going to free up monies for that particular family to put towards helping them to improve their situation.”

Participating elementary schools in the Box Elder County School District include Garland, Lake View, Mountain View and North Park. The Cache County School District serves summer lunch at Birch Creek, Lewiston, Lincoln and Nibley elementary schools. Summer lunch is also served at Preston High School and Preston Junior High. 

More information about the Summer Food Program is available at <a href=”https://www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks”>fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks</a> or by texting ‘FOOD’ to 877-877.

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jennifer@cvradio.com

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