The representatives from IGA were hardly inside the doors of Riverbend Elementary School when Principal Michelle Byer rushed toward them Wednesday.
“Are you familiar with our 3 Square Program?” Foodland IGA Manager Rick Wilson asked.
“We sure are,” Byer said, “and we’re excited for it.”
Meanwhile, IGA Perishable Manager Brad Folckomer and cashier Brian Lauth wheeled in 29 boxes filled with bags of food. These bags, stocked with breakfast and lunch supplies, will be passed out to students to take home during their summer break. In total, this project — officially called Project 3 Square — supplies 85 grocery bags of food into Riverbend.
The point of these bags is to keep the children eating three meals a day, which might not happen in some of their homes. At Riverbend in particular, many students reside in Section 8 housing, Byer said, and they benefit greatly from programs such as this.
For many students, school serves as a place where they not only learn and make friends, but where they can consistently get food if they’re on the school lunch plan. Riverbend recently rewrote its mission statement based on feedback from students who said that one of their favorite aspects of school was getting that lunch.
Byer referenced the philosophy of Abraham Maslow, who developed a “Hierarchy of Needs” that states that people need to satisfy basic needs (sustenance and safety) before moving on to focusing on improving themselves in other ways.
“Without that,” Byer said of school lunches, “how can they learn? It’s Maslow’s Hierarchy, they have to be able to eat in order to learn.”
During winter, spring and summer break away from school, students may not have that consistent free meal. That’s where local organizations such as IGA come in. Northern Light United Church donates “snack packs” to schools to distribute to students in need.
Foodland IGA and Super Bear IGA got into the program a couple years ago, as Wilson and others were at a national conference and saw another IGA affiliate doing something similar. The small size of Juneau makes it easy for IGA to get out to every school in the district in just the span of a few hours.
For the past two years, IGA has put together deliveries for the 13 local schools from elementary to high school, consisting of breakfast and lunch food. They distribute the bags prior to winter, spring and summer breaks.
This Wednesday, they delivered 457 grocery bags of food, including cereal, oatmeal, peanut butter, grape jelly, chicken noodle soup, tuna, ramen noodles and more. Wilson and Folckomer said they’ve delivered as many as 600 grocery bags on trips before. The deliveries to schools, Wilson said, is the easy part.
“It actually takes quite a bit of effort to get to this part,” Wilson said.
IGA uses sales from its reusable shopping bags — ones that use artwork from local artist MK MacNaughton — for part of the funding, in addition to donations from stores and individuals. IGA also has to reach out to all the schools and get estimates for how many bags they’ll need for each shipment. The night before the deliveries, around 30 IGA employees come in at night to volunteer and pack the bags for the shipments.
Wilson said the employees don’t mind coming in after hours to get the job done, and that it’s all a part of looking to make sure people are fed, whether they can afford to buy groceries or not.
“We just try to be part of the community,” Wilson said. “IGA’s dedicated to making this work.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at email@example.com or 523-2271.