WEBER COUNTY — Families and friends are enjoying Thanksgiving feasts, but for many Northern Utah children, holiday breaks from school mean less food, not more.
Catholic Community Services of Northern Utah runs two programs to provide food for children in elementary school who may not have enough at home.
The organization makes an extra effort during the holidays each year to collect additional food and send it home before the break with elementary students who need it.
“Hungry kids is something that should never happen in the world or our country — and definitely not our community,” said Maresha Bosgieter, director of Catholic Community Services of Northern Utah. “We just appreciate everybody that supports us, helping us make sure these kids are taken care of so they can ... focus on school.”
Bridging the Gap is one of CCS’s programs to address child hunger in Weber County. The program has nine participating schools in Ogden and Weber school districts.
Every month, CCS staff and volunteers bring two bags of food, weighing about 10 pounds total, to every child enrolled at these schools, which have high percentages of children whose families qualify for federal free or reduced-price lunch.
Right now, the Bridging the Gap program serves 4,500 children monthly in Weber County.
The program has grown to serve 1,200 more children than last school year, Bosgieter said.
At 11 other schools, CCS brings smaller 1-gallon bags of food, called pantry packs, once a month for children who need it. The pantry packs are discreetly placed in children’s backpacks, since not all children at these schools participate in the program.
The pantry pack program also serves six to eight additional schools as needed, when school staff request it, Bosgieter said.
Altogether, the pantry pack program serves 2,000 children a month in Weber County. This program has grown to serve 200 additional students since last year.
Right before the holiday break, Catholic Community services is not able to send home additional Bridging the Gap bags or pantry packs with every child that participates in the two programs, so schools determine which of their students most need assistance over the holidays and share those numbers with CCS, Bosgieter said.
Last year, CCS provided an additional 550 food bags to Bridging the Gap schools and 335 pantry packs to schools that needed them. This was on top of the programs’ regular monthly food distribution.
CCS spent the last couple of days wrapping up their distribution of food for Thanksgiving, so schools haven’t yet sent in the number of children who need food over the winter break — but it’s safe to say it will be more than last year.
“We are anticipating that the need for Christmas break will be much higher than it was last year because we are serving more students and more schools,” Bosgieter said.
As for how the community can help, there are many ways, but Bosgieter said the Bridging the Gap program is always in need of one thing — 12-16 oz. jars of peanut butter.
This need is even greater when they’re collecting extra food for bags to distribute before winter break.
Bosgieter says CCS purchases between 4-5,000 jars of peanut butter a month for the Bridging the Gap program alone. The program distributes at least 6,000 jars of peanut butter a month through Bridging the Gap and pantry packs combined.
“It’s ... really high quantities that we go through, and so it doesn’t take very long for us to be in an emergency situation ... where we need those items,” Bosgieter said.
There second highest needs are cans of tuna fish and Ramen noodles, she said. Ramen noodles are popular among the children, and something they can prepare on their own, she said.
Those wishing to donate food can drop by CCS at 2504 F. Ave. in Ogden between 7:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
To use donations for holiday food bags for children, CCS needs to receive them by Dec. 13, though the earlier the better, Bosgieter said.
You can also make a donation online at CCS’s website to go toward Bridging the Gap, get a group together and use CCS’s pantry pack guide to gather and assemble items for pantry packs — which are completely supplied through community donations — or call CCS’s volunteer coordinator to learn about other volunteer opportunities, of which there are many, Bosgieter said.
According to the Community Action Partnership of Utah’s most recent annual report on poverty for 2017–2018, 11,600 children lived in poverty in Weber County — about 17% of all children in the county.
More children participate in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, which serves 18,000 students in Weber County, including both Weber and Ogden districts, according to the Utah State Board of Education’s 2018 survey of eligible students across the state.
The CAPU 2017-2018 report says that 9,754 — or 9% of all children — live in poverty in Davis County, while 15,403 children and youth are enrolled free or reduced-price lunch in Davis School District, according to USBE.