McKell Withers hopes kids who come to the Salt Lake City Main Library for a free lunch will also pick up a few books.
“Kids in poverty don’t have access to reading materials during the summer,” said Withers, superintendent of the Salt Lake City School District. “Some of them don’t even own books. But how can you connect feeding the mind and feeding the body at the same time? That’s what’s cool about today.”
The federally funded Summer Food Service Program began serving free lunches to kids age 18 and younger at 200 sites around the state on Monday. Lunches are available every weekday, except on holidays.
Utahns Against Hunger wants to make sure children from low-income homes who rely on free and reduced price meals during the school year know they can get free lunches during the summer, said Marti Woolford, outreach coordinator.
The nonprofit partnered with the Utah State Office of Education Wednesday to highlight the program and the new downtown Salt Lake City location at the library.
All children can benefit from the program, Woolford added. “It’s a kid program so it’s for all kids regardless of income,” she said. “That’s why there’s no paperwork required.”
Woolford said she hoped to draw attention to the library location because fewer children are receiving meals there.
“We could go to a site in Kearns that has 500 kids a day, but they don’t need more kids to come,” she said. “We need the smaller sites to get participants.”
Adding the library as a location can have an impact beyond easing hunger, Withers said.
“There’s a little thing called summer reading loss,” he said. “And for young people that live in poverty it’s also nutrition loss. And when those two things are addressed in parks and schools and libraries, you start to break down the barriers to learning that otherwise aren’t addressed.”
Find a free lunch
To find a Summer Food Service Program site in your community, use the interactive map at http://1.usa.gov/SOfbNd.
Millions of meals served in Utah
Meals given per summer at Utah sites of the Summer Food Service Program: