Tragic loss, a mother’s promise kept: Turning tragedy into giving

ST. GEORGE — Tanner Holt told his mom he was starving when he returned home from school every day – he had been giving his lunch to another student who had nothing to eat. From that day forward, the young boy brought two lunches to school, a gesture that would fuel a program that now feeds more than 600 children attending school in Washington County.

Display set up at Republican Women’s luncheon tor Tan’s Treats presentation, St. George, Utah, Nov. 2, 2017 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

More than 89,000 children in Utah don’t have enough to eat, which is 20 percent of the 440,000 children residing in homes across the state.

Tan’s Treats is a local nonprofit organization that packs a weekend bag of food consisting of three meals and one snack for both Saturday and Sunday. The organization delivers the bags to schools where staff give them to children who have opted into the program.

The story of Tan’s Treats began years earlier when Tanner Holt, an elementary school student, gave his lunch to another student who arrived in the cafeteria with nothing to eat. Once his mother, Diane Holt, learned of this, she started making two lunches for her son to take to school, which she continued to do throughout the school year.

Years later, 23-year-old Tanner Holt died in a tragic accident, and his grief-stricken mother decided to honor her son’s life by giving, she said. She started by purchasing clothing to be donated to people in need.

Packing operation takes place in Tan’s Treats facility on Riverside Drive where bags are packaged for students, St. George, Utah, Nov. 2, 2017 | Photo courtesy of Virgin River Productions, St. George News

Over time, the family became involved in providing food and meals to families, which developed into an operation that now provides thousands of meals to children each month who may otherwise go without.

The family-run nonprofit organization, staffed by volunteers and led by one very remarkable family, made a presentation at the Washington County Republican Women’s luncheon Thursday at Best Western Abby Inn where the group addressed the topic of child hunger.

With the help of the organization’s sponsors, Tan’s Treats donates over 20,000 meals every month in Washington County, meals that help children obtain the nutrition they need during the weekend when school lunch programs are not available, allowing the kids to arrive at school ready to learn and develop properly.

The operation grew and was eventually moved to a larger facility on Riverside Drive, which allowed enough room to house and bag the food before it’s loaded into a trailer and delivered to the school every Friday and given to the children before they leave for the weekend.

There is an air of excitement the day of delivery, particularly for the students receiving the weekend food bag, program staff said.

L to R: Tasha Holt, Nicole Holt-Goulding and Diane Holt at Republican Women’s luncheon giving Tan’s Treats presentation, St. George, Utah, Nov. 2, 2017 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

“They get excited when that Friday comes because they know that bag is going to come so they won’t be hungry, and their learning isn’t impacted because it’s one less thing they have to worry about,” elementary teacher Emily Neumann said.

Tasha Holt said many children are eager for the deliveries, explaining how one child checked with the school’s front desk numerous times before they showed up, asking if the food bags have arrived yet and telling office staff he wants to make sure his food isn’t given away.

“We are looking at the bigger picture, and there are still so many children out there that we’d like to help,” Nicole Goulding said. “We rely on the community for support, and there are so many amazing people that make this possible.”

St. George Mayor Jon Pike attended the event and said he was impressed with the scope of the operation, adding that the program provides a remarkable service to the community.

“This is a very powerful program, and what an incredible thing to do as a family, feeding over 600 children – that’s incredible,” Pike said.

Mayor Jon Pike at Republican Women’s luncheon watching Tan’s Treats presentation, St. George, Utah, Nov. 2, 2017 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

“It’s a need,” he said, “it’s there and it’s right in our neighborhood, and these are our children.”

The weekend bags provide meals for 615 students attending four Washington County schools – in a district with 25 schools and more than 30,000 students enrolled. More than 12,000 of those students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, representing more than a third of students, Steve Dunham, communications director for the Washington County School District, said.

“More than one-third is huge and just shows that we have a significant need for organizations like Tan’s Treats and all that they do here in the community,” Dunham said.

Moreover, during the 2016-2017 school year, more than 1,100 homeless families had a child attending a Washington County school, and 44 percent of all students in the district qualify for free or reduced lunches.

“Statistically speaking, I think it’s 1 in 5 kids in the state of Utah deal with hunger on a consistent basis,” Jay Porter, Title I coordinator for an elementary school in the Washington County School District, said.

Items needed consists of nonperishable, easy-to-open packaging that is individually wrapped and easy enough for kids to make themselves, including instant oatmeal packets, fruit cups, cans of Vienna sausage or tuna and ramen noodles, to name a few.

Wish list for Tan’s Treats with items needed for weekend food bags for school children | Image by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The program also provides family meal bags that include children’s meals as well as items to be prepared for the family during school breaks, such as Christmas or spring vacations.

Anyone interested in donating food items, volunteering or sponsoring a child can visit Tan’s Treats’ website or Facebook page.

Tan’s Treats is also hosting the “Hungry Hustle Ugly Sweater 5K” fundraising event Dec. 2 at the St. George Crosby Family Confluence Park at 2099 S. Convention Center Drive at 10:30 a.m. Each kilometer will be marked with different activities, including tinsel, Christmas trees, snowballs, candy canes, a selfie with Santa and more.

The Washington County Republican Women organization has been active in local politics and community service for more than 50 years. Its purpose is to promote an informed public through political education and activities, including a monthly meeting with guest speakers. Thursday’s luncheon also included a check presentation in the amount of $1,000 by organization president Lesa Spendlove Sandberg to Dixie State University for the “Embracing our Heroes Scholarship.”

The organization is active in campaigns for Republican candidates and works to promote the Republican Party’s principles. Any Republican woman 18 years or older may join. Men are welcome to join as associate members. More information is available at www.washingtoncountyrepublicanwomen.com.

Update: Virgin River Productions created the video shown at the top of this report, as well as the images that were retrieved from the video and used for the story.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.  

Email: cblowers@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

8 Comments

  • comments November 4, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    I get the whole cutesy and feel-good aspect of things like this, but it’s kind of pathetic that so many people are relying on a charity-based program especially in such an extremely wealthy area such as this. 1/5 school children going hungry (although I don’t really believe it’s that high a number) sounds like an absolute failure in gov’t policy. Way to go mormon-republicans. keep patting yourselves on the back. Charities filling in for failed gov’t policies. Similar to 3rd world africa, no? Then again if there’s all these starving children running around stg I’m sure as **** not seeing them, LMAO.

  • comments November 4, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    Now I’m trying to remember what occasion I met Mr Jay Porter.

    • mesaman November 4, 2017 at 9:02 pm

      Your dementia is out of control and in your case irreversible

  • asianspa November 4, 2017 at 11:19 pm

    This charity is very nice but they are attacking the symptom and not the cause. You have many employers paying dirt wages and our elected officials constantly sell the area as a great area to take advantage of a low wage workforce (which happens to be same people that voted them in office). We have the desperate here working these jobs and winding up stuck in a cycle of poverty and failing to plan for careers , moving to areas where career level employment exists, and then reproducing like rabbits and creating the next generation into poverty. The churches that seem to blindly promote large families, coddle the business elite, the polticians, and of course the people that are in the area that think they went to church on Sunday so their value system is perfect are to blame. If you don’t have a career you have no business having a family and if you live in an area void of career level employment either make a decision to wait or MOVE!

  • mamashark November 5, 2017 at 12:12 am

    I guess Democrats need not apply to help out here! More exclusivity!

  • maggie November 5, 2017 at 6:58 am

    To criticize anyone for finding a solution for a problem such as hunger for children is the sign of a sad person who is likely empty inside. It may be that a family does receive government funding and does not spend it on the child, Do you really think any should turn their head and allow this childhood hunger. You appear to be the one with the empty heart…not the community nor the people who are doing something. I am proud to live in a community that does these things to correct problems. Thanks to all that do!

    • asianspa November 5, 2017 at 8:48 am

      You say you are proud to live in a community that does things to correct these problems? Does that mean you are ashamed that this community also created these problems ? Why are you not voicing shame and outrage at your local politicians, church leaders, etc… How come they are untouchable?

  • Common Sense November 5, 2017 at 7:19 am

    I think it is great that they are helping kids out but…. what about their parents? Isn’t it their responsibility to feed their children? If they do not feed their children isn’t that neglect? If a parent can not even provide food what other things are they not providing? A bigger issue may need to be addressed here. Not only that but to provide children food for the weekend it obviously must be non perishable foods. The foods picture, like canned soup and mac and cheese are loaded with sodium, fat and preservatives. This type of food is not nutritious and in my opinion is harmful to a young growing body.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.