Super Bear/Foodland IGA employees Whitney Oudekerk, center, and Michael Stults, right, hand off bags of food for Super Bear IGA Director Tony Demelo to box at Super Bear IGA on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 20128, as part of the grocery store’s Project 3 Squares. (Michael Pernn | Juneau Empire)

Super Bear/Foodland IGA employees Whitney Oudekerk, center, and Michael Stults, right, hand off bags of food for Super Bear IGA Director Tony Demelo to box at Super Bear IGA on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 20128, as part of the grocery store’s Project 3 Squares. (Michael Pernn | Juneau Empire)

Program makes hunger take a winter break

Grocery stores help bridge winter break food gap for local students

For the past three years, Krystal Mroczkowski has helped stuff bags with a week’s worth of food ahead of the holidays.

Mroczkowski, customer service manager for Foodland IGA, is one of the 3 Square program’s annual volunteers. The third-year program helps provide breakfast and lunch foods over winter, spring and summer breaks to students who may need supplementary food while school programs are on break.

“It’s a great program,” Mroczkowski said. “Kids shouldn’t go hungry.”

The program started locally in 2016, when Meyers Group reached out to the school district about possibly expanding their 3 Square program to Juneau, said Adrianne Schwartz, food service supervisor for Juneau School District. Myers Group owns both Super Bear and Foodland IGA, and participates in similar programs in other states.

“We’re very grateful to them,” Schwartz said.

Before breaks, schools within the district identify families who could use food during the winter break and shares the number of bags of food wanted with the grocery stores, which then stuff bags with a week’s worth of food.

This year, Foodland and Super Bear IGA employees will pack 478 bags, which Schwartz and Foodland IGA store director Rick Wilson said is about average.

“I do know that there have been times when it has been over 600,” Schwartz said.

The bags contain items such as cereal, tuna, peanut butter and jelly and other food stuffs, Wilson said.

“What we try to do is put a week’s worth of breakfast and lunch in a grocery bag,” Wilson said.

Wilson said those meals in particular were selected because data shows if children in food-insecure homes — households lacking reliable access to food — eat a meal, it is most likely to be dinner while breakfast and lunch are more likely to be skipped.

More than half — 54.9 percent — of kids in Alaska ate breakfast at school in 2016, and 11.6 percent of Alaska homes are food insecure, according to Food Research and Action Center.

Packing hundreds of bags isn’t an all-night affair, said Rowena Cano, point of sales coordinator for Foodland IGA, a regular 3 Square volunteer.

“Most of the times, it’s less than an hour,” Cano said. “It’s fun. It’s nice to volunteer because I feel happy to be able to help them give those kids a treat.”

Mroczkowski said there’s typically a good volunteer turnout, and they quickly find a working rhythm.

“We get a nice rotation going,” Mroczkowski said.

Once the food is bagged, it’s transported to schools, so that students can pick up the food before the holiday break.

In addition to volunteers, the program is also helped by money from sales of reusable bags at Foodland and Super Bear IGA.

The bags sport a design by Juneau artist MK MacNaughton, who responded to a call for art work a couple years ago, and has seen her work inspired by the Mendenhall Glacier around town ever since.

“I’m delighted to see them everywhere,” MacNaughton said. “It’s exciting to see them. I personally have given them as gifts. I just applaud Foodland for doing this.”

The 3 Square program is not connected to bags of groceries customers can donate. That program benefits Southeast Alaska Food Bank.

• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or

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