The National School Lunch Program is still fairly new to the Wrangell School District. Just a few years ago Wrangell was one of six school districts in Alaska, without the federal program, and that’s when former Superintendent Woody Wilson began pushing to get the program in to the Wrangell Schools. After months of paperwork done by the school district the program is now on its third successful year and school officials say the benefits of the program are showing.

Over at the Wrangell High School, Cafeteria Manager Sue Callbreath serves up pancakes to a crowded auditorium of hungry students. Sue has been managing the breakfast and lunch program for the past two years and says the program keeps her very busy.

“Wayne and I get there at about 5:45 a.m. and we start whatever we are making and get it going, and whenever we are finished with that we start our lunch. We’re pretty busy from 5:45 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.; it’s just go… go… go,” she says.

Sue prepares the meals for the middle school and high school while Wayne Harding works at the elementary school. Sue says many of the students rely on the meal service, and both she and Wayne go through a lot of food each day.

“I think instead of just one case of something you’re going through like four or five cases, it’s pretty amazing. On chicken nugget day you can go through six or seven cases of chicken nuggets, so we are pushing a lot of food through. And on burger day you’re talking 200 burgers. And on pizza day we usually are making 10 or 11 big hotel pans for pizza day,” she says.

Last year, Sue says they were operating out of the Diamond C restaurant, which meant they were transporting all of the food across town multiple times a day. This year a cafeteria has been set up at the high school, which means the food is made right on site and Sue says that’s a big improvement.

Evergreen Elementary School Principal Therese Ashton says she’s very happy with the direction the program is moving. Ashton works as the federal programs director for the district and says she’s noticed major changes in the students.

“It was pretty exciting to see the effect it had on the students because there were some kids that would come in with headaches or stomach aches, cranky, or they would get in trouble first thing in the morning. Come to find out first thing in the morning they rushed out of the house and didn’t have breakfast. This program provides food for kids and also makes it so they have time in the morning to socialize with each other and that seems to be a good thing that happens,” she says.

With a school district that is made up of 65% low income families, the food program offers some students the option for free or reduced meals. Ashton says this option gives a nutritionally sound breakfast and lunch to some students who might not be getting consistent meals otherwise. And continuing this year, Evergreen Elementary School will offer students a fresh vegetable and fruits snack program, which Ashton hopes will promote healthy choices.

“It’s really about educating kids on the value of eating fresh fruits and vegetables. And the kids last year  were very positive, we had comments from the children about how they had never tried things before and that they really liked it. Asking for more vegetables so that was really fun to see and hear. And we did get a lot of positive comments from parents,” she says.

Cafeteria Manager Sue Callbreath says this is her last year doing the food program, and encourages anyone interested in the community to step up and take over the program next year. Applications for free or reduced lunch can be picked up at any of the schools or at the district office. The application deadline is September 21st. For more information you can contact the Wrangell School District at 907-874-2347.
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