Local restaurants are stepping up to the plate to ensure Utah County students in need are getting the food they need while classes are dismissed.
In Utah, more than 216,000 of the state’s 666,858 K-12 students are considered economically disadvantaged or qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, according to the enrollment data from the Utah State Board of Education. While most schools will be open to provide food to students, restaurants are also pitching in to help smooth the unexpected transition for students and parents.
After Gov. Gary Herbert announced the “soft closure” of all Utah public and charter schools during a press conference Friday, executive chef and owner Chad Pritchard of Fat Daddy’s Pizzeria said he knew he had to do something.
“We have decided to do lunches for school-age children for kids in the free and reduced-price program,” he said. “There are a lot of kids in our community that rely on that program.”
Pritchard took to Facebook on Friday to draft a now-viral post announcing that starting Monday the business would be providing free grab-and-go meals for any school-aged children who need lunches. The restaurant will begin serving the lunches at 11 a.m. and continue until 1 p.m. or until they run out of food.
That post has now spread throughout the U.S., garnering over 56,000 shares over 24 hours.
When they made the announcement on Friday, Pritchard and his family didn’t know if the schools were going to be able to continue to provide meals to students, what they did know was that businesses would be allowed to stay open, so they decided to open their doors to children in need.
“I’m not a doctor, I can’t help people get better, but I can feed people, and I think that’s important for us to do,” he said.
Since the program started Monday, several families have come in. Pritchard said, although he is happy to see people taking advantage of the resources available, he doesn’t have any expectations.
For Pritchard, it doesn’t matter how many children the shop feeds. But what does matter is that parents and students know there is food available for them.
“Nobody deserves to be hungry,” Pritchard said. “It’s not their fault that their parents can’t afford food or that they’re on the lunch programs. A lot of these parents can’t get their kids to school during the week. They’re working and their kids are at home.”
Originally, Pritchard planned to serve the children so they could sit and eat but he said the business has been asked not to. Plans changed to accommodate recommendations from state and federal health officials, but grab-and-go lunches create additional costs.
While Pritchard said he started this venture with no expectations other than serving children in need, the shop has received dozens of calls about how people can help. The best way for the community to get involved, he said, is to volunteer their time — if they are healthy — to help bag the meals.
“It’s nerve-wracking for us,” he said. “If a thousand children show up, we want to be able to feed a thousand children, but there’s a cost incurred in that.”
For people outside of the immediate area, or who are unable to leave their homes, donations are always accepted. Fat Daddy’s Pizzeria can take donations over the phone via credit card or through the Venmo app to the @chefchad account.
While the shop is known for its pizza, Pritchard said it won’t be pizza everyday.
Pritchard said they will continue to provide for children for the two weeks that schools are scheduled to be out and they will re-evaluate after that.
“If a child comes in, we’ll feed that child,” he said.
Other businesses have also advertised free meals for Utah County students, including an Argentinian restaurant called Asado. The Orem-based business is opening its doors over an hour early Monday through Friday to serve students hot breakfast. Only children and their parents will be allowed in the restaurant from 7:30-9 a.m.