Grant money from SEARHC will help Wrangell Public Schools improve and expand on-site meal preparation.

The district received $24,667 through SEARHC’s Community Transformation grant program. The schools were previously using a vendor to prepare meals for the students, but this year the district had to take on the task itself. Evergreen Elementary Principal Therese Ashton said the grant came at the perfect time to ensure the food program, which is an expensive undertaking, is financially secure.

“We are able to purchase some basic equipment, some consultant fees that we need because we want to make sure we’re in line with other places and doing the best we can. We also need to get a vehicle just for the food program so that transporting between the two buildings that we have can be done in a safe way. So all those things play a part in this grant,” she said.

The grant also will help the district keep in line with National School Lunch Program requirements. According to the grant application, school officials have heard from parents and students who want healthier options. Ashton said preparing on-site, made-from-scratch meals is a way to provide those choices. Officials also plan to implement more Alaskan foods. Food Service Director Dixie Booker said she is currently working toward replacing sugar with Alaskan honey. She said the grant will help with day-to-day operations, especially when the school purchases a cargo van.

“It’ll make a significant difference just in the fact that right now I’m using my personal vehicle for transporting food along with freight and other items. It’ll be a lot safer because I’m not jumping in and out of the truck and it’ll ensure that the food stays at the temperature that it’s supposed to be,” she said.

Booker said using funds to purchase other equipment such as food processors and a commercial electric range and oven also will help with timing. Right now the district is considering building a new commercial kitchen. Currently, the department shares a space with the home-ec class. Ashton said the district’s kitchen committee has been meeting to discuss how the grant funds could be used in a new kitchen.

She also said there could be some more learning opportunities available to students as the food department expands, but nothing has been solidified.

“What the kids are learning now is we’re even trying the younger children being able to serve themselves so that they can have a part in this process. Dixie’s done a great job of when kids ask her questions about the food she answers them pretty quickly and straightforward. She’s just very open to finding out what they like, what they don’t like. She’ll walk around and check to see what’s being thrown away and what’s not. And that always happens, not everybody likes the same foods. She does keep a good eye on what’s been successful and what’s definitely not worked,” she said.

In the grant application, the school district named partners in the effort to provide healthy meals: JOM, Wrangell Cooperative Association, IEA, City and Borough of Wrangell, Alaska Island Community Services and the Wrangell Community Hospital.

According to SEARHC, grants were awarded to organizations with a focus on tobacco-free living, active living and healthy eating. Award totals ranged from $5,000 to $24,750. The Wrangell School District was one of seven organizations to receive funds.