Beginning last week, all students in the Wasatch County School District can access school lunch and breakfasts for free. As of Monday, online students can also access free meals through a drive-up system offered at the high school.
On August 31, the US Department of Agriculture announced a plan to fund free lunches for any student through December 31, or until money runs out. To participate in the program, a school just needs to be a member of the National School Lunch Program.
Wasatch County School District Food Supervisor Darrin Wilkins says they’re serving about 3700 lunches and about 1000 breakfasts a day since the program started September 14. About 500 are new participants and under normal circumstances, about half of all 7000 Wasatch County School District students receive free or reduced lunches and breakfasts throughout the school year.
“It’s not a low-income thing or a high-income thing right now. It’s just a program right now because of the pandemic for people who, you know, even if you don't absolutely need it. You can still use it, so people don't know but everyone's welcome.”
Renee Burkley with the Wasatch Community Foundation says before COVID-19, they provided lunches in the Park for summer school kids. This summer they brought some 2000 lunches directly to Wasatch County neighborhoods.
“Kids should not be hungry but it’s a social inequity in the Valley. We have a lot of affluence. Wages have been stagnant for like 47 years. People are not making enough to live on, and it is a challenge to get the basic needs met. And then throw COVID and on top of that, it's turned a lot of these family’s world upside down. The last statistics I heard too, we had 2800 unemployed people as a result of COVID and had about an 18% unemployment rate. And I don't know how it's looking right now but that's significant for small county.”
The Wasatch Community Foundation raised about $120,000 for COVID relief early in the pandemic but she says they’ll have to get more sophisticated in their fundraising.
“We can’t look too far ahead because we're not quite sure what's around the corner. But all I know is that when you let people know what the need is, often time they respond and especially when it comes to food and kids being hungry. People don't like to hear about that. They don’t perform well. They don't grow well they don't perform well. They can't function when they're hungry.”
Wilkins says 40 to 50 % of school kids in Wasatch County, in normal circumstances, would be eligible for free or reduced lunch under the National School Lunch program.
“Well, they have said this will continue through December 31st. You know, funds permitting. So, there is some concern that it will serve so many meals there won't be enough, you know, funds to continue to do free for everybody. And if that were the case, then we will revert back to the regular school lunch program. Free and reduced kids would have to apply, or they can also be approved through food stamps and programs like that, they are automatically approved in the computer system. We have an agreement with the DWS and that pulls into our system and make them free without having to do anything.”
For students who are virtual, at home learning, they can pick up lunches from 11:00 to 12:30 every day Monday through Friday at the Wasatch High West Campus near the pool.
A link to the Wasatch County School District website can be found here.