Midvale • Recent efforts to address homelessness in downtown Salt Lake City through what’s been dubbed Operation Rio Grande have pushed The Road Home shelter in Midvale to capacity, with nearly 300 families being housed on site and in hotels throughout the city.
Since the family shelter opened in Midvale in late 2015, it has not only underscored the needs of the homeless, officials said, but also brought to light the severe challenges that lack of access to housing, food, clothing and hygiene can present for school children.
Oil company Chevron announced on Tuesday it had opened up charitable giving through its Fuel Your Schools program to allow teachers in Midvale and elsewhere on the Wasatch Front to submit “Life Essentials” requests, aimed at helping students going without basics.
Teachers, homeless advocates and elected leaders — including Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini — gathered at Midvale Middle School Tuesday to celebrate the shift in Chevron’s policy.
“The need is kind of hidden,” said Karen Sterling, Canyons School District student advocacy and access director. “It’s nice when businesses are supportive because then we can get the resources and make sure teachers have what they need to support their students.”
The Fuel Your Schools program, in its seventh year, will fund up to $750,000 for a variety of classroom projects in Salt Lake, Davis and Utah counties, with Chevron offering one dollar to the program for every gasoline fill-up of eight or more gallons purchased at Chevron and Texaco stations.
Typically, Fuel Your School has paid for classroom projects by covering costs of materials and supplies, for activities involving science and technology or reading comprehension. But those kinds of projects are all but ineffective for students who are in dire need or going hungry, said Tyler Kruzich, manager of policy, government and public Affairs for Chevron.
Sterling said nearly 2,000 students in the Canyons district are homeless, out of a student population of about 33,000, and more than half of those students are in the Midvale area. About 100 students currently living at The Road Home shelter in Midvale attend a school in the district.
The impact is being felt by schools where students are already at an economic disadvantage, in some cases. Nearly 70 percent of students at Midvale Middle School, live in households with incomes low enough to qualify for free and reduced lunch – almost double the state average.
Needs come in other forms, as well. Midvale teacher Shelley Allen said she is hoping to break down her students’ language barriers with Chevron’s help. As Midvale Middle School’s English-language development teacher, Allen teaches students who speak almost 10 different languages, such as Swahili, Chinese, Arabic and Spanish.
Allen said she sought to give each of her 32 students with a computer tablet able to translate their assignments and lessons throughout the school day – a request Chevron fulfilled Tuesday during a visit to her classroom.
Allen teaches students who speak almost 10 different languages, such as Swahili, Chinese, Arabic and Spanish — and they often struggle to keep up. “My newcomers are excited to learn,” she said, “but have so much to overcome.”
Buying them tablets, she said, “would make their lives easier and allow them to learn much faster.”