A big truck — a mobile food pantry — rolled up to Salt Lake City’s Jackson Elementary, not far from downtown west of the freeway, in a much anticipated stop for kids and their parents Thursday.
A crew from the private, nonprofit Utah Food Bank threw open the doors and soon youngsters were excitedly lining up with shopping bags.
In Utah, one in five children face hunger — that’s about 150,000 kids. And, experts say, nutrition is important for physical, mental and emotional development.
Elizabeth Tamayo was getting in line on the bright afternoon with her daughter, Stefany Blanco, 11, who is in 6th grade.
“This is very important,” Tamayo said, “because it is a contribution to the whole family.”
Tamayo and her husband, Juan Blanco, have two other children, Juan, 12, and David, 4.
“It’s great they have come to our school,” Tamayo said of the food bank staffers and volunteers. “They are good citizens.”
Once a month, the mobile food pantry visits 67 Title I schools in Davis, Salt Lake and Utah counties, schools where at least 50 percent of the students qualify for the school lunch program.
They are allowed to take enough food for the whole family for the weekend.
“Utah Food Bank’s mobile pantry “approaches childhood hunger with the understanding that we can only protect a child from the pain and anxiety of hunger by ensuring that their family has access to food, as well,” said Ginette Bott, chief development officer.
The sponsor for Jackson Elementary, in conjunction with the Food Bank, is Fidelity Investments. Ten employees in bright green T-shirts manned the distribution tables, handing out such things as peanut butter, containers of mandarin oranges, fresh carrots and apples, granola bars, mac and cheese, canned beans and bread.
Fidelity has been a Jackson Elementary sponsor for three years, said Chris Millburn, vice president.
“This does a lot of good. It’s hard to get an education when you are hungry,” he said. “And it’s great to get out of the office.”
The mobile food pantry is in its third year of operation, Bott said. Last year, the program served 234,000 people — 130,000 of them were children.
Vanessa Garcia wore a big smile as she went through the line with her son, Luis Briones, 8. She has three other children, ages 14, 15 and 20.
“My neighbor told me I could come here and get food for free,” she said. “To me, this is really good.”
The Jackson Elementary kids always get excited when they know the mobile food pantry is coming, said principal Jana Edward.
“The biggest thing I have taken away from this partnership is that the students really look forward to it,” she said. “It’s something they can count on in an unpredictable environment.”
People can help, Bott said, by donating healthy food, such as tuna, canned fruit and vegetables, canned meats and boxed meals. Visit utahfoodbank.org for a list of drop-off locations.
Corporate sponsorships are available for $5,000 per school year and can include volunteering two to three hours each month.