CLEARFIELD — Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have reported a dramatic increase in food insecurity. The resulting economic downturn has prompted a rise in donations to food pantries.

At some food pantries, like one operating out of Clearfield High School, those in need haven’t been collecting as much as anticipated, said Lorna Koci with the Bountiful Food Pantry.

Some potential causes, she noted, are a lingering fear of leaving home and an aversion to the long lines outside of food pantries at the beginning of the pandemic. But the main one, she believes, is that the community is unaware of the resources available to them.

“We don’t know how many people know that we’ve really reopened, but we’ve tried to spread the word as best as we can because we’re really here to help,” said Tori Whiteley, one of the students who helps run Clearfield High’s food pantry.

Prior to the pandemic, the food pantry helped about 20 families per week. Now, according to Becky Vervloet, a teacher who oversees the pantry, only about two show up when the school distributes food on Thursday afternoons.

Families not showing up to food pantries does not mean the need isn’t there. According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, unemployment in Davis County was at 4% in September — the most recent available data. In September 2019, unemployment was half that at 2%.

At the beginning of this school year, the number of students who qualified for free or reduced lunch in the Davis School District was 763 higher than the previous year, according to Utah State Board of Education enrollment data. The number of students experiencing homelessness also rose from 467 to 493. Approximately 12.6% of homeless students are enrolled at Clearfield High.

“Those are kids and families we really, really want to be helping,” Koci said.

In-school food pantries are in a unique position to reach students and families who need the assistance but aren’t receiving it. Koci said schools are easily accessible to families, they are a familiar place and families with undocumented people are not as concerned about their citizenship status being questioned.

The Davis School District has three food pantries open to the public. In addition to the one at Clearfield, Layton High School and Northridge High School also distribute food. Each of those schools is located near UTA bus routes.

There are other food pantries exclusively for students in the district.

There are seven secondary schools with food pantries in the neighboring Weber School District and a total of nine schools in the Ogden School District that operate food pantries.

When students need to access food, it’s usually done discreetly to protect each student’s privacy. At Clearfield High, counselors keep an eye out for students who may be experiencing food insecurity. They have their own key to the food pantry and open it up for students to collect anything they need.

“I really appreciate our counselors that they do that so the kids don’t have to feel embarrassed in front of their peers,” Vervloet said.

Besides Vervloet, the Clearfield High food pantry is entirely staffed by students. They stock the shelves, assemble food orders and make curbside food deliveries. All of the students who volunteer there, Vervloet said, know how to rotate cans and maintain the pantry according to health department standards.

As the donations for the food pantry have kept coming in, there is no shortage of students volunteering to help out. The pantry, Whiteley said, has become a uniting force as something that students are all invested in.

“Clearfield High is really giving,” Whiteley said. “That’s the notion I got from it, and we really do care about our students and everything, and we just want to make their lives better.”

Those who are in need of food assistance can submit an order for Clearfield High’s food pantry online. It is open from 3-5 p.m. Thursdays.

Contact reporter Emily Anderson at eanderson@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @emilyreanderson.

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