SCS, Tribe Adopt Sitka Free Meal Program

Category: Local News
Created on Thursday, 09 July 2020 15:30

By GARLAND KENNEDY
Sentinel Staff Writer

The distribution of free food to young Sitkans will continue through the summer with the agreement of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and the Sitka Conservation Society to take over the Sitka School District program that ended June 30.

“Our larger concern is to ask not just in this moment of crisis but in general why are people going hungry in our community? And what are some systemic solutions to this problem?” said Chandler O’Connell, community catalyst of the Sitka Conservation Society.

Any Sitkan 18 years old and younger, regardless of their association with Sitka schools or financial status, is eligible. In addition, any 19-year-old who is still in high school is eligible.

The STA and SCS collaboration started their free meals program last Friday, serving 349 people, and again this Tuesday, serving 392.

STA Youth Program Manager Hillary Nutting, who helped put the program together, said it falls under the tribe’s Cultural Resources, Education, and Employment (CREE) department.

“It’s amazing, it feels so good to help so many families in Sitka and it’s hard to put into words how good it feels,” Nutting said. “It feels really good and I’m really proud to be a part of this.”

Shawn Hutchinson packs lunch bags for Kids Kupboard this morning at Sweetland Hall on the SJ campus. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

The food distribution site has been relocated from the Sitka High parking lot to the STA building parking lot at 201 Siginaka Way.

“Sitka Tribal Enterprises is providing Tribal Tour vans that will go pick up food from the kitchen site on the Sheldon Jackson campus,” Nutting said. “They bring the bags to the Siginaka parking lot where we have our crew. They unload the prepackaged bags on the table. And family members drive through a little loop to pick up one bag per child,” Nutting said.

Distribution hours are 8:30 a.m. through noon on Tuesdays and Fridays. Each bag has food for seven days of breakfast and lunch. The food is prepared at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp kitchen on the Sheldon Jackson campus.

Although families can pick up the food in person, Prewitt Enterprises has continued remote food distribution service by bus, Nutting said. About half of the meals are delivered, rather than being picked up on-site, she said.

To maintain physical distancing, the in-person food pickup is a drive-through process.

O’Connell said that for now the food provided is pre-packaged, but she hopes for different options moving forward.

“One of our stretch goals with this program is we would love to find a way to add value to families and source local foods,” she said. To that end, SCS and STA have been in touch with the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.

“We’re working with ALFA, trying to connect kids to local seafood. And if any local businesses are interested in collaborating they can reach out,” O’Connell said.

She noted that the program received U.S. Department of Agriculture funding, as well as aid from the Sitka Legacy Foundation.

Looking into the future, both Nutting and O’Connell hoped that summer food assistance programs may have a long-term future in Sitka.

“What we’re hoping is this program can continue next summer under our department ... so the passing of the torch on to us from the Conservation Society,” Nutting said.

O’Connell agreed, and hoped for solutions to the hunger situation in Sitka.

“We are interested in long-term sustainable solutions as well,” she said. “If this program works well we would love to see it continue in Sitka through another institution.”

O’Connell concluded that food security is essential to a healthy community.

“We believe that food security is fundamental to community well-being,” she said.

Anyone eligible and interested in signing up for the food program should contact SCS’ Jill Hayden at jill@sitkawild.org or 907-623-8209.

Nutting added that she enjoyed having interaction with local children again. The ongoing pandemic has greatly limited social interaction, especially between young people after schools closed in March.

“It’s nice to see kids again. I’m used to seeing them so regularly, and then it stopped so instantaneously. And that’s why we’re here. It has been really nice to see them again and have some feeling of normalcy,” she said.