Children leaving programs at the Neighborhood House in Salt Lake City had something besides seeing their parents to look forward to on Tuesday evening.
Volunteers at a table in the nonprofit’s lobby had 200 to-go meals from Premier Catering and Maize Tacos ready to hand out. There were meat and vegetarian options to choose from.
The meals were provided by the Nourish to Flourish Initiative, which purchases food from local restaurants to give out to community members. The program’s goal is to give business to restaurants that have been hit hard by the pandemic while simultaneously reducing food insecurity.
About 83,000 meals have been handed out since the program started in May, according to Nourish to Flourish director Brian Jones. Meals are handed out on a daily basis at different nonprofit organizations, including Catholic Community Services of Utah, the International Rescue Committee and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake. Jones said there are many groups already providing shelf stable food to people in Salt Lake City, but provider organizations said more hot, fresh meals were needed.
Parents picking up meals at the Neighborhood House said that the prepared food is a big help when they are exhausted and their kids are hungry at the end of the day.
Maria Hernandez’s arms were full with food and her daughter’s art projects when her daughter skipped up to her in the lobby and reached for a hug.
Hernandez, who spoke to The Tribune with translation help from a teacher, said her kids are hungry and she is tired when she gets home from work. She said the meals help a lot.
Andrea Riveros said she takes meals home every day. She said the program is very helpful because she works all day and doesn’t have enough time to cook. She said she also doesn’t have a lot of money.
“We are grateful for the program,” she said.
Maria Munoz said her daughter loves the food they get from Nourish to Flourish. Without it the child would have to wait for Munoz to drive home and cook dinner and she probably wouldn’t start eating until 6 p.m.
“When she gets something here she’s already eating on the road,” said Munoz.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall lent a hand in serving meals Tuesday night. She said it was “uplifting” to see people receive good food.
Mendenhall said restaurants are a critical part not only of Salt Lake City’s economy, but also its character. She said she is glad Salt Lake City could financially contribute to the program, which supports restaurants and provides fresh food to community members, and she encourages other cities to do the same.
People facing food insecurity who want to take advantage of the program should contact the participating nonprofits, according to Jones. He said the program hasn’t yet figured out a way to serve food outside of its partners, but he said Nourish to Flourish is constantly trying to assess how to fill more service gaps.
Neighborhood House is willing to serve food to anyone who needs it.
Sara Wilcox, president of the Neighborhood House Board of Trustees, was working her weekly volunteer shift on Tuesday. Wilcox said most of the people who pick up food at Neighborhood House are families involved in its programs, but she said some people from the broader community have come to get food.
“It’s for anyone in the community, we don’t restrict who gets it,” she said.
Funding for the program comes from a number of government agencies and local businesses, including $100,000 from Salt Lake City. Jones said the program has spent about $630,000 and has more than $200,000 left. He said the current funds are enough to keep serving food through March, but the program is in the process of “aggressively fundraising” to keep going.