It’s 7:30 a.m. on Friday at Harborview Elementary School, and breakfast is served: whole wheat cinnamon rolls, assorted fruit, a sausage patty and milk.
This week, the meal also came with a check. Juneau Community Foundation and the United Way of Southeast Alaska presented a $24,000 donation on Friday to the Juneau School District for its districtwide breakfast program.
The money bridges the gap between federal dollars, which provide a free breakfast for households that meet federal poverty guidelines, and the cost of offering free breakfast to every middle and elementary school student, Board of Education President Brian Holst said.
The annual difference between the two is about $35,000, according to JCF. Donations are still being accepted.
“Their outside contribution leverages our resources for a benefit that is larger than it would be otherwise,” Holst said.
Students filed into the first floor cafeteria at about 7:40, grabbing green trays and piling on food as Principal Tom McKenna watched. Breakfast lays a base for learning throughout the day, McKenna explained. Students can be squirmy and unfocused if they don’t have food in their bellies, and the younger ones don’t always know how to speak up to let adults know what they need.
“Kids who are coming in with behavior, focus issues, those kinds of things, our first question across the board is what do you need? Now we can say, have you had breakfast? If the answer is no, we can send them down here,” McKenna said.
It’s the second year JSD has had enough money to offer free breakfast for all elementary and middle school students. Aside from boosting focus, a free breakfast for everyone helps cut down on any stigma associated with taking the free meal, Holst said. Without community help, the school district would only be able to offer free food to students whose parents fall within a lower income bracket. Now, everyone eats together.
“The critical piece is that it removes the stigma,” Holst said.
Breakfast supervisor and office assistant Paulette Wilson monitored students as they ate. She said the meal is particularly important for kids who don’t always eat a hot meal.
“We have some kids that have never experienced that kind of food before. … It really helps them,” Wilson said.
Participation has increased when the meal is offered to everyone, said Food Services Supervisor Adrianne Schwartz. On a high day this year, 941 students have attended free breakfasts across the district, Schwartz said. That’s an increase of over a high of about 800 students last school year.
“We’re hoping that as we communicate to the public that this is available, that we’ll continue to have participation in the program,” Schwartz said.
The free breakfast program started in 2014 with a pilot program at Glacier Valley Elementary School. Donations have helped it expand to every elementary and middle school since then. Free breakfasts are available at all the high schools for students who qualify for reduced price meals.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.