Juneau School District food program administrative assistant Catherine Pusich, front, and supervisor Adrianne Schwartz deliver free groceries to the winner of a giveaway linked to a recent meals survey for the district on Oct. 27, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Juneau School District food program administrative assistant Catherine Pusich, front, and supervisor Adrianne Schwartz deliver free groceries to the winner of a giveaway linked to a recent meals survey for the district on Oct. 27, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Family wins free groceries as school district promotes free student meals

All enrolled and attending students get free breakfast and lunch.

One Juneau School District family won $100 in free groceries this week as the food services division seeks to spread the word about the free meals for all enrolled and attending students.

The giveaway is one of a number of new methods the division is trying to keep families abreast of developments.

“I was not expecting to win. I was just providing some feedback,” said Jamie Tompkins, who food service division personnel delivered the groceries to on Wednesday. “I’m really happy with the lunch program this year. It’s helped out a lot. Any help is appreciated, as I’m sure all parents know.”

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More than 370 families responded to the survey. The winner was determined randomly from a spreadsheet, said food service administrative assistant Catherine Pusich.

“I put in a formula, hit enter and the first name that popped up is the winner,” Pusich said in a phone interview.

The school district, which for many months, was providing food for any child in Juneau who wanted it,has transitioned to providing free breakfast and lunch for all enrolled and attending students in the district, said food service supervisor Adrianne Schwartz. The meals are funded federally by the Seamless Summer Option, a U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service program extended in response to the pandemic.

“It’s taken a bit for people to realize that meals are truly free for all students,” Schwartz said in a phone interview. “We’re serving about 600 breakfasts a day and about 1,700 lunches. We anticipate that to increase.”

Options are broader now than the one-size-fits-all meals the district was offering at the height of the early pandemic, with some meals more popular than others, Schwartz said.

“The crowd favorite is definitely pizza day,” Schwartz said. “They also love nachos and pasta.”

The idea for a giveaway with a survey inviting comment on the meals this year was Pusich’s, Schwartz said.

“We recently conducted a survey to get the word out that meals are free this year and ask some questions of our students and families about what they like and don’t like about the free meals,” Schwartz said. “That was Catherine’s idea. She personally called the family to find out what kinds of foods they like and don’t like.”

Adding a giveaway component was fair turnaround, Pusich said. The food service division will continue to incorporate giveaways in its surveys and application drives, at least in the near future, Schwartz said.

“You’re asking parents all the time to give us feedback. I know what that’s like, I was a parent. I thought, is there a way to give a little more incentive? And I also know groceries are real expensive right now,” Pusich said. “It’s about marketing our program and finding new and different ways to reach families.”

The next giveaway will be a Thanksgiving basket, Pusich said. All who apply for free meals will be eligible to receive the basket. Even though school meals are free this year, Schwartz said, it’s important to apply for them, as being certified eligible for free school meals can affect eligibility for other benefits programs.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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