New program seeks to ‘Bridge the Gap’ to combat hunger

Posted at 10:13 PM, Apr 20, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-21 00:13:17-04

WEBER COUNTY, Utah – A religious organization is starting a program that will help Utah children who are in need of food get additional nutritional support.

The effort is the work of Utah Catholic Community Services, who estimates there are 16,000 children in Weber County who need food support.

“There are so many people in our communities across the state who are struggling with the very real issues of hunger,” said Marcie Valdez, who is the director for Northern Utah Catholic Community Services.

Valdez said the northern Utah organization distributes about 200,000 pounds of food each month, serving about 2,300 households. They gave away 2.5 million pounds of food in 2013.

"There is absolutely no reason why anyone in America should go without food," Valdez said. "There is enough food in our communities to feed everyone. It's often just a lack of access to that food."

Now, the group is partner with the Arby’s Foundation to launch a program called “Bridging the Gap.” The program will work with Ogden and Weber County school districts this fall to identify four schools with the greatest food needs. Mobile food pantries will be sent to those schools, and Valdez said they hope to send some children at those schools home with two or three bags of food each weekend.

"The schools that we are looking at targeting have 80 to 100 percent free and reduced lunch utilization, so it really is the schools with the highest concentration… kind of in those high-poverty neighborhoods,” she said.

The program is modeled after a similar one that has seen success in Salt Lake County. Ginette Bott, chief development officer for the Utah Food Bank—headquartered in Salt Lake County, said she hopes the new program benefits from lessons already learned.

“I hope these other programs that are starting can model and perhaps not make some of the mistakes or even challenges that we experienced at first, and that the program will be more effective faster,” Bott said.

Bott said school participation will be important.

“One of the elements of success to this program is going to be whether or not they partnered with schools who have the ability, to really be a strong partner,” she said.

She further stressed that cooperation across the community is the key to combating hunger.

“With any of these programs, you have to remember the volunteers, the donors who provide the funds, and then the diligence of the school employees that make it happen,” she said. “There is no one entity that can take care of hunger. It has to be a cooperative effort."