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South Salt Lake Journal

School pantries and community donations essential to learning in Granite District

Sep 14, 2020 03:24PM ● By Heather Lawrence

The Granite Education Foundation team at a backpack drive on Aug. 13. L to R: David James, Brent Severe, Brittany Peterson, Kim Oborn and Bob Hanson. (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Fans of KUTV sportscaster David James might know that school pantries are a project close to his heart. 

“In 2002, I had a service experience, and decided to help fight poverty wherever I saw it. My experience was with people in Bosnia, but I found out that child hunger was a massive problem in Utah,” James said. 

James is on the Board of Directors of the Granite Education Foundation. GEF is a nonprofit community organization that directly impacts children within Granite School District. School pantries focused on food insecure students have become a big part of how GEF accomplishes its mission. 

“Talk to educators everywhere and you will hear the same thing. Kids who are hungry can’t learn. They act up, they fall asleep, they’re anxious. School pantries are a place where principals or social workers can take the kids for a snack, and then they’re ready to go back to class and be engaged learners,” James said. 

Kim Oborn is the programs coordinator for food pantries in Granite School District. “Last school year we had 23 pantries up and running. We received requests from principals for 20 more pantries. There is a huge need across the entire district,” Oborn said. 

Oborn and James spent a hot day Aug. 13 with their team in the parking lot of the Maverik Center in West Valley City collecting school supplies. The fundraiser was sponsored by KUTV, and was in part a response to pandemic precautions: students doing in-person learning will each need their own personal supplies. 

“COVID has intensified the need for these things—each kid needs their own pencil, their own notebook, their own calculator. We want to limit the amount of touching and sharing items within the classroom. These donations will help families who can’t afford them to comply with that level of cleanliness,” Oborn said. 

Pantries don’t just supply food for kids at school. “There are weekend kits where a kid can grab a bag and it has supplies in it for the whole family. Some clean diapers for younger siblings, snacks and enough food to make a meal for four. For food insecure families, it’s a lifesaver,” Oborn said. 

Statistics compiled by GEF cite that GSD is comprised of 91 schools serving 67,000 students. The geographic range of GSD goes from East Millcreek out to Magna. There are 160 languages spoken in GSD schools, and 50% of students come from families at an economic disadvantage. 

“Times have changed, and schools are doing a lot more now than just academics. This supports academics. Kids can’t learn if they’re hungry or worried about food insecurity,” Oborn said. 

Rolling pantries are one of Oborn’s new projects. “We couldn’t fulfill the request we got to double our in-school pantries this year. So we came up with the rolling pantries. 

“The shelves have wheels on them, and we stock the shelves with supplies. Then we load them on a truck and take them around to different schools where they stay for a month. We take the empty one back to the distribution center and fill it,” Oborn said. 

GEF relies on donations from sponsors and the community to keep the pantries stocked. Their website has information on donation needs and service opportunities.  

“The great thing about these projects is that even little ones can help. Sometimes it’s just assembling kits and putting one of everything in a bag,” Oborn said. 

Recently, Cyprus High freshman Anton Goodick built pantry shelves and ran a fundraiser for pantries at two Millcreek area schools for his Eagle Scout project. He involved local politicians, friends and cub scouts. “This is a way you can make a difference in our community,” Oborn said. 

Knowing you’re making a difference is powerful. “The experience that started this all for me was when I was in charge of a service project with a youth Sunday School class. We’d raised money to buy a cow for a group in Bosnia that had been hit hard by their civil war.  

“We received a thank-you note back from a group in Bosnia that had been touched by our donation. It was incredibly graphic; a level of gratitude and suffering that we don’t even know. I read it to the youth, and you could have heard a pin drop. I vowed then to fight poverty whenever I could,” James said. He’s convinced the food pantries make that kind of difference in his own community. 

Principals report to Oborn that the pantries have a big impact. “The principals and social workers are so appreciative. They feel the weight of the need in their schools. One group with a great need is refugees; of all the refugees in Utah, 65% of them live within GSD boundaries,” Oborn said. 

“Food insecurity hits on a cultural level. Food is such a big part of culture. So we appreciate donations that are sensitive to different cultures. Small things make a difference—knowing that some cultures are more used to cooking with dried beans than beans from a can. Things like that,” Oborn said. 

Oborn and James had a goal of collecting 15,000 backpacks with school supplies during the Aug. 13 drive. But the need is ongoing and donations are accepted on a rolling basis. There is always a need for financial donations, non-perishable food, clothing, shoes and school supplies. 

“The full impact of COVID in our communities is yet to be determined. There is so much uncertainty, and our pantries have become even more important. They are open to kids who learn in-person or distance learning. We need to secure the funding to take the burden off kids so they can focus on learning,” Oborn said.