As organizations and families across Juneau get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, the Juneau School District is doing its part to make sure every child has food to eat, distributing literal tons of food for the holiday weekend.
“It’s just been an amazing effort,” said Adrienne Schwartz, Juneau School District food service coordinator, in a phone interview. “It’s been a partnership between our food service contractor, our transportation contractor and the school district.”
All of the meals are made at Thunder Mountain High School, said Janice Dugan, the ship-out coordinator who helps to organize the logistics of each day’s meals. Approximately 22 workers help out with the cooking and preparations beginning at about 5 a.m. each morning, Dugan said. There are also about 30 bus drivers who get the meals where they need to go. The meals are available to every single child in Juneau, 18 or younger, whether they’re enrolled in the district.
“We’re doing on average a day about 800 breakfast meals and 800 lunch meals per day. Today we distributed three meals- Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Dugan said. “We’ve been able to feed the community — for the entire community — for about two and half months.”
Dugan credits the smooth operation to management personnel with experience in catering large events, who came down from Anchorage at the very beginning of the pandemic to pass along their best practices.
“All of a sudden, one day, we went home, and found out we were doing a whole other thing. When we came in, he (their manager from Anchorage) had the tables lined up like an assembly line. There’s been some trial and error, but without his knowledge, I don’t think it would have run as smoothly as it did,” Dugan said. “It’s worked out really well. You don’t realize till you’re in a situation like this how many people would be affected.”
For other members of the school district, the efforts of the food service workers and bus drivers have been laudable.
“Feels good to be part of the school. It’s massive. They’re doing the whole district’s meals here. Warm people, warm energy, doing it for the right reasons,” said Luke Adams, TMHS’ activities director, in a phone interview. “It’s a good time to be thankful for a lot. I hope the whole food services team understands how much we appreciate them. That includes bus drivers, coordinating the whole thing, no matter the weather.”
The food service team sat down a month ago to work out the best way to distribute the food for Thanksgiving and Christmas, Schwartz said. With each meal averaging roughly 1.3 pounds, Schwartz said, JSD workers will distribute nearly three tons of food for the long weekend. Without the hard work of staff, including people like Dugan, none of this would be possible, Schwartz said.
“Every time I talk to her (Dugan), I kinda feel her passion, feel her heart, and it’s kind of inspiring. She is one of an absolute army of folks whose mission is to make sure kids are fed. It’s inspiring that this program is available,” Adams said. “Having these folks as part of the school district team is inspiring. They’re not working with kids directly, but that passion is still fueling them every day. I’d say that passion has been even further ignited, because they understand how important it is.”
The school district will continue providing meals to all children in Juneau through the end of the school year through the federally supported program, Schwartz said, there are things that Juneau residents can do to help support it.
“Donations have been really helpful,” Schwartz said. “We do get a federally reimbursed, but there is a cost associated with operating this 7 days a week.”
Meals will be available for pickup at the following locations.
-All Schools: 10 a.m.- 1 p.m. Monday- Friday
-Gruening Park or Cedar Park- 11:30 a.m.- 12:30 p.m. Monday- Friday (served out of school bus)
-Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School- 4-6 p.m. Monday- Friday
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