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Utah News

Nibley Woman Spearheads Project To Feed School Children Over Weekends

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In a small warehouse just off Logan City's main street a group of volunteers move crates of food. Workers are cold and they struggle to move canned goods with gloved hands.

"It is really cold this morning, but we are here every week during the school year come rain or shine," said Nibley resident Peggy Reese.

Reese began the "Still Cool After School" supplemental food program five years ago when she was working at Ellis Elementary. The program brings community volunteers together each week of the school year to gather donated food items. Peanut butter, cereal, soups, and pasta are some of the staples they place inside more than one hundred backpacks. On Fridays the backpacks are distributed throughout elementary schools by administrators in the Logan School District. Together they select students who qualify for federal food assistance and also demonstrate a need for nutrition services on weekends.

"I was asked to help supply holiday gifts for students at my school on year," Reese said. "We also included items for a meal. I realized then that this is something that could help do on weekends when these student aren't getting federally funded school breakfast or lunch."

Backpacks were gathered and Reese began her weekly routine of filling the packs with donated items from her friends and neighbors. The program grew and now she and her crew of volunteers store their supplies in huge cardboard produce bins at the local food bank.

One in five Utah children are unsure where their next meal will come from.

"We worry when we can't provide the food service on a regular basis especially during the holidays," Reese said. "We have been told that several of the district's schools have a student population where 80 percent of them are living below the poverty level. That means most of the students are living in homes where their caregivers may not be making enough money to buy the nutritious food they need," she said.

Marti Woolford is a child nutrition advocate with Utahns Against Hunger. According to a report released by the hunger prevention group in 2013, one in every five children in Utah is unsure of where their next meal is coming from and 34 percent of children in the state get most of their nutrients by eating free or reduced price school lunch and breakfast.

"Nutrition can impact a child's ability to learn," Woolford said. "Without adequate food you see student attendance rates drop, test performance is impacted and there are more visits to the school nurse."

Nearly half of the state's teachers who participated in the school hunger survey reported hunger is a serious problem in their schools. Even more, nine out of 10, said having well fed students improves school performance. This, according to Woolford, is an important factor in helping children overcome overall issues of poverty.

When schools are closed Woolford encourages those in need to seek other sources of help. Local food pantry services and shelters often offer additional programs for patrons during the holidays. Still, she said, many families may be aware of food programs but are uncomfortable or unwilling to participate.  Community help in this case would include finding ways to encourage those who need the nutrients for themselves and their families to use the help. 

We all need help at some point in our lives.

Woolford says those in need can sometimes feel they are being judged when they admit they need help.

"We all need help at some point in our lives," Woolford said. "And getting proper nutrition is more than feeding your belly. It can provide you with the health and energy needed to get a job, find housing, and becoming more independent."  

Reese said she understands the stigma that happens when peers recognize students may be taking home food.

"We don't want the kids to be made fun of in any way and that is why we put it in a backpack," she said.  "They just look like they are going home with their normal backpack."

Reese is hoping the community will take the opportunity to donate items that can be used to fill backpacks after the holidays when students return to school.

Donations can be made at the Cache Food Pantry, 359 South Main St., Logan. Items for the program should be marked "Still Cool After School."