The Logan and Cache County school districts are wrapping up their annual summer free-lunch programs this week and next, and the latest data indicates participation is growing at locations outside of Logan.
Between the two districts, about 1,500 children per day have been served so far in the six-week 2019 program, which will amount to 45,000 free lunches overall.
The Logan district, which moved its summer cafeteria from Mount Logan Middle School to Logan High School this year due to construction, averaged around 500 meals per day — a figure that includes sack lunches provided by LHS to the Logan City Parks & Recreation Department and served daily at Adams and Willow parks.
Logan School District Child Nutrition Coordinator Paul Guymon said participation in the Logan program has remained steady over the past decade or so, but his counterpart at the Cache district, Susan Wallentine, said county numbers are growing.
Five of the Cache district’s 24 schools serve free lunches: White Pine Middle School in Richmond, Lewiston Elementary, Nibley Elementary, Lincoln Elementary in Hyrum and Birch Creek Elementary in Smithfield. Wallentine said participation grew this summer at the last three schools.
The rising numbers don’t necessarily indicate higher numbers of children living in poverty in the valley, because the program is open to all kids between the ages of 1 and 18, regardless of their parents’ income status — no questions asked. Although the income levels of participating families aren’t tracked, when asked if she thinks many of the kids getting free lunches could technically afford to pay, Wallentine responded, “I would say yes. Yep, there are a lot of both (low-income kids and those of higher income), but I would say everybody takes advantage of it.”
The free summer lunches — along with free and reduced-price breakfasts and lunches during the school year — are funded entirely by the National School Lunch Program established in 1946 under the administration of President Harry Truman. The purpose of the overall program has been to keep low-income school children from going hungry, and the schools around the nation serving free summer lunches must qualify by meeting a certain threshold of either students enrolled in the umbrella program or numbers of poverty-level families within their boundaries according to the U.S. Census.
Although school boundaries are used in the qualification process, all children, regardless of where they live, are welcome at any participating school.
“There are kids in need that we don’t see, and I just think it’s a great program for those kids,” Wallentine said of the summer meals. “Some people don’t see there’s a need for it, but I definitely think there is because some of those little kids don’t get any food during the summer.”
Guymon shares those thoughts. “It’s just been a really positive thing, and it’s a good thing for the community,” he told The Herald Journal.
The summer lunch program ends at Cache schools this Friday. Logan High's summer food service will shut down for the season on July 23.