OGDEN — Starting this summer, Catholic Community Services of Utah will launch an initiative to combat child hunger in Weber County.
The organization plans to provide food boxes once a month to children participating in the Summer Foods Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program, Bridging the Gap, is expected to serve about 600 children this summer, said Marcie Valdez, northern Utah director of Catholic Community Services.
In the fall, the program will be based from four yet-to-be selected elementary schools. That phase of the program is expected to reach 2,400 students each month.
The food boxes will contain nutritious foods such as powdered milk and food items that are easy for children to prepare such as cereal and macaroni and cheese. Catholic Community Services of Utah hopes to provide fresh fruits and vegetables when they are available.
"The idea is to make sure the kids have food but recognizing if the kids are hungry, the parents probably are, too. It's really meals for that family with the focus on kids at the schools and the summer feeding sites," Valdez said.
She described the first phase of Bridging the Gap as "just dipping our toe" into areas with much more pervasive needs, she said.
Some 16,000 students in the Weber and Ogden school districts receive free or reduced-price school lunches, roughly 36 percent of the student body. While school nutrition programs help meet their needs while school is in session, many children have inadequate access to food when classes recess for the weekend or during vacations, she said.
Catholic Community Services considered the idea of a backpack program that provides food to be consumed over a weekend, but the Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank lacks space to prepare and store backpacks, Valdez said.
The types of food typically supplied through backpack programs are not readily donated to the food bank so the nonprofit would have to solicit specific donations or spend money to purchase items such as peanut butter, beef stew or tuna.
The food boxes distributed through Bridging the Gap will come from the food bank's supplies.
In addition to distributing food boxes, the program will provide information to families about applying for food stamps.
"There's absolutely no reason anyone should go hungry in America, let alone our children. The biggest barrier is access to food. We're trying, through this program, to reduce those barriers, but it will take the support of the community to do that," she said.
A $25,000 challenge grant from the Arby's Foundation will be used to start the program.
"We've still got a ways to meet the total but we're going to start the program. I feel confident that the community, once they see the program, will support what we're doing. They (Arby's Foundation) hopes to make it their childhood hunger program for years to come. They're hoping this will be their flagship Utah program moving forward. We hope so, too," Valdez said.
The Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank is located at 2504 F Ave. in Ogden. Mail can be sent to P.O. Box 869, Ogden, UT 84402. To contact the food bank, call 801-394-5944.
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