Feeding hungry kids ‘outside our back door’
Feb 17, 2020 03:03PM
By Justin Adams
Volunteers fill backpacks at the USANA Foundation's new food-packing building to provide food for local schoolchildren who lack adequate nourishment. (Darrell Kirby/City Journals)
By Darrell Kirby | [email protected]
For a company that sells nutritional and other health products around the world, USANA saw a growing need for nourishing food within a few miles of its West Valley City headquarters.
So USANA recently took over an existing program called KidsEat! (and modified the name to Kids Eat) to provide backpacks filled with food to schoolchildren in need in the Salt Lake Valley to take home on weekends and extended breaks during the school year.
In an effort to expand the program to serve even more hungry students, USANA purchased, renovated and, in December, officially opened a building near its corporate offices to make that happen.
USANA will use part of the facility to stuff what it hopes will be 1,000 backpacks a week with food staples for kids who often don't have enough to eat for a myriad of reasons, especially on weekends when they don't have access to school-provided free or reduced-price breakfasts or lunches.
USANA CEO Kevin Guest says that Kids Eat under his company's charitable arm, the USANA Foundation, will help distribute food closer to home.
“The mission of our company is creating the healthiest families on earth. And health begins with the very basic needs of nutrition. Right outside our back door are thousands of children who have that need,” he said.
The initiative caught the attention of Dr. Mehmet Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon perhaps better known as the host of a nationally syndicated medical advice TV talk show. Oz and his wife, Lisa, started a foundation in 2003 called HealthCorps to provide mental and physical health education and tools to teens, so Kids Eat resonated enough with him that he attended the opening of the new USANA food-packing facility. “I like to be behind programs that do that kind of good work," he told the West Valley City Journal. "I'm in all the way."
Oz says that rather than wait for a government solution to childhood hunger of which one in five kids in Utah suffers, Kids Eat is an immediate, local way to tackle the problem. "Instead of lamenting it and looking for federal programs, what can we do right now?" he asked. "This is a very scalable program. You can feed kids for almost nothing."
Family finances are not the only reason kids don't have enough food. Abuse, neglect and violence can also play a part, according to Michelle Benedict, who is now engagement manager for USANA Kids Eat, but founded her own similar charity, Kids Next Door, in 2010.
Before the USANA Foundation acquired it, KidsEat! Utah was launched as a nonprofit organization five years ago by Lynda Brown to serve the Murray City and Jordan school districts, Boys & Girls Clubs, and other youth organizations.
Most of the food is donated to USANA Kids Eat by businesses and individuals. It includes peanut butter, snacks, and other staples plus items that can be turned into meals by families on weekends. Some donors give money for Kids Eat to buy the food it needs. Kids Eat and school principals work together to coordinate the number of backpacks needed at each of the participating schools. USANA has even provided a truck to deliver them to the schools.
USANA's 800 West Valley City-based employees are encouraged by their CEO to pitch in.
“We encourage our employees on the company’s time to take time out of their day to do some good and pack some of these backpacks for these kids,” Guest said. “This isn’t something we’re trying to do for publicity. We want to make a difference.”
“When I die, I want this program to still be here. And I hope that’s many years from now,” laughed the 59-year-old Dr. Oz.
The public is invited to help fill backpacks. For more information, visit usanakidseat.org.