COVID has hit many families hard. With a year of restrictions and economic hardships in place, many families that were scraping by before are now in a very difficult place.
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reports a COVID Hardship Watch through real-time data. A serious concern for many families is in getting enough food. Around 24 million adults (11% of the US population) report not having enough food to eat in their household. According to the report from CBPP:
“This was far above the pre-pandemic rate: a recent survey released by the Agriculture Department found that 3.4 percent of adults reported that their household had “not enough to eat” at some point over the full 12 months of 2019. When asked why, 80 percent said they “couldn’t afford to buy more food,” rather than (or in addition to) non-financial factors such as lack of transportation or safety concerns due to the pandemic.”
In Utah, the rate is higher than the national average with 16% of Utah adults reporting food scarcity and children in the household. That is 155,000 families who are struggling to provide enough regular meals for their children in Utah.
“One in five Utah children don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and programs like USANA Kids Eat help to fill the gap,” USANA Kids Eat Development Manager Michelle Benedict says.
USANA Kids Eat is a program dedicated to helping feed at-risk youth who are facing food insecurity. The program has filled 99,965 backpacks for kids with over 699,755 meals provided. USANA Kids Eat believes no child should ever go hungry.
“Giving back to our community is a key tenet for our company, and USANA Kids Eat has done an incredible job to care for Utah children and their families. This year has been difficult for everyone, but it has been especially hard for families who rely on school meals to help feed their children,” says USANA Foundation President Brian Paul. “I am extremely proud of the support USANA has given throughout our community.”
COVID has brought a high level of stress to families, especially those who are struggling to keep food on the table. Most Americans (7/10) are reporting stress from COVID and the average stress level is higher than it was during 2019, according to the APA. Parents are most likely to struggle with stress over basic needs, like food (70%).
Some estimates have reported that anxiety levels in youth have doubled because of the pandemic. No one quite knows what the impact of COVID-19 will have on the youth. But, there is no question food scarcity causes a huge impediment to a child’s development.
“These kids are under a lot of stress,” Benedict says. “There is a unique type of stress that comes with being hungry.”
Reports from the APA note food insufficiency causes a higher prevalence of poor health conditions for children, including headaches, stomachaches, colds and chronic illness. Youth struggle to focus in school when they are hungry. Hunger-related stress can stunt brain development and physical growth.
Food scarcity for children has been linked to depression and anxiety. Kids who grow up with toxic stress from chronic hunger face a high risk of depressive disorders and self-harming behavior in adolescents.
USANA is working to make a difference for the local community.
“We provide food every weekend to kids who are food insufficient at home,” notes Benedict. “The mechanism we use to pass those bags out is through the schools. It’s the teachers and counselors who are passing out our bags.”
With COVID causing restrictions, the bags are best passed through the teachers and counselors who are with the kids every day. These are the mentors most likely to know who might need extra food and would benefit from a USANA Kids Eat Bag.
USANA works with over 41 schools and organizations within Utah. The bags provide more than just food—they show support to at-risk youth. USANA hopes each bag brings with it a sign that someone is rooting the kids on.
“Through the past year we’ve really seen what’s been going on in the schools and how big their challenges are with COVID,” says Benedict. The Impact of the Coronavirus on Food Insecurity in 2020 from Feeding America notes:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a public health and economic crisis, the effects of which are widespread. The repercussions include added hardship for populations already facing challenges making ends meet, as well as a significant increase in the number of people experiencing food insecurity.”
“When they receive our bags they get so excited,” says Benedict. “And, I don’t think it’s just because there is food inside. I think they are excited because it’s a show of support. They know we have their back and we are rooting for them. These bags are just fuel to help keep them going and handle the challenges they are facing.”
Recently, USANA even handed out 1,500 bags for the teachers themselves. “We’ve been impressed and amazed at how above and beyond they go to make sure no kids fall through the cracks and that they’re taken care of,” Benedict says about local teachers. “That they’re learning, but also that they are getting these food bags and the support that they need.” Each bag for a teacher or counselor was filled with stress-relieving items, like essential oils and stress balls.
This effort is nowhere near finished. USANA wants to keep building up the local community by supporting at-risk families.
“These kids are really tough,” Benedict says. “They are resilient. They keep working.”
USANA asks for donations from the public to increase their reach to kids in need. USANA Kids Eat also is looking for sponsorships and volunteers to build up the program throughout 2021.
USANA is a global health and nutritional company working to help support and maintain healthy lifestyles. USANA creates a number of high-quality, science-based nutritional products, including nutritional supplements, foods and personal care products. The four pillars of the company include excellence, integrity, health and community.
About USANA Kids Eat
With USANA Kids Eat, the company is able to provide safe food to children facing hunger in Utah. The program was developed in 2019 when the USANA Foundation acquired KidsEat! to create USANA Kids Eat.
The nonprofit program establishes a framework to combat hunger within the local neighborhoods of Utah. USANA Kids Eat challenges the community to join in and participate in helping kids gain access to safe food and reach their full potential. Each meal goes to a struggling family to help solve hunger in America.
Laila Azzahra is a professional writer and blogger that loves to write about technology, business, entertainment, science, and health.