GATHERING OF CULTURES – Dorothy Gordon holds year-old Marilyn De La Torre as they perform an entrance song Thursday at the B.J McGillis Gym during the annual Gathering of Cultures. A Tlingit dance group made up of several Sitka Tlingit dance groups opened the gathering. Mt. Edgecumbe High School’s student dance groups representing cultural groups from five regions of Alaska also performed. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

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Daily Sitka Sentinel

STA Now Offering Food Aid in Schools


Sentinel Staff Writer

With families again paying for school lunches after federal assistance ended in the fall, Sitka Tribe of Alaska has launched a program to pay for tribal citizens’ school meals this year and through spring 2024.

The need for a food aid program became apparent about four months ago to Sarah Ferrency, deputy director of the STA Cultural Resources, Education and Employment Department.

“It was really right around when lunches went from being free for everyone to being paid, which was, I think, October 1, and then probably by the beginning of November… (Families) didn’t notice they were getting charged until a little while later,” Ferrency told the Sentinel.

When reports of kids going through a school day without eating reached her, Ferrency suspected that she was seeing only the tip of an iceberg.

“My experience has been that when you hear it from one kid who’s brave enough to talk to you, there’s another ten kids behind them who aren’t going to talk to you about it.”

In addition, the pandemic disproportionately impacted Tribal families, she said, a fact that helped spur the development of the food aid program.

Her co-worker, Hillary Nutting, had noticed the same problem during the course of her work.

“I first heard of it from my student support specialists who work here in this building,” said Nutting. “They had relayed to me that students that came to our open hours were mentioning that either they weren’t eating school lunch because of money, or other reasons. And so I approached Sarah and asked her if this is something that we could potentially help with.”

Although registration for the food assistance program has been open for only about two weeks, by Tuesday morning 42 children were registered, and by the end of the day that figure had risen further, Ferrency said. As of this morning, 33 families had signed up 47 kids.

Tribal citizens can sign up for the program now online at Registration is open through the end of March.

Using funds from the federal American Rescue Plan passed in 2021, STA has allocated about $66,000 for the two-year food program. It will pay for school lunches and breakfasts for the remainder of the school year and, Ferrency specified, the payments also can apply retroactively to meals eaten earlier in the year. A vote of the Sitka School Board made school breakfasts free for all students this year beginning in the fall, but STA’s program will pay for any breakfasts eaten before they became free. Under STA’s program, money is sent directly to the school district and applied to a student’s food account.

“One thing that’s important to know about this program is that it’s kind of late, so we’re going to back pay for this year,” Ferrency noted. “We’ll pay for lunches that they’ve eaten all year, and breakfasts before breakfast became free.”

The online application form asks registrants if their income is low enough to qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, run by the Department of Agriculture. An Alaskan family with one child qualifies for free lunches if their income is below $22,087. The precise amount scales for the number of children in a family. If a family qualifies, Ferrency said, they should apply for the federal program.

“Eligibility for free lunch is a very important measure for poverty rates for school districts, which makes them eligible for lots of other things – funding, grants, lots of stuff,” she said. “In fact, the Sitka School District is always hovering on the threshold of 40 percent, which is kind of the magic number where you become eligible for things, and we are almost always under that, but we definitely don’t want to take away from that.”

She hopes to continue the assistance program for as long as possible, though there are limits attached to the federal monies. For now, the application covers the current school year, as well as the 2023-24 school year.

“It’s going to be for the fiscal year and next school year. And then I think, at that point, we’re going to probably reassess the need and how much ARPA funding we have, because we can theoretically spend the ARPA funding through December of 2024,” she said. “So we could do the ’24 to ’25 school year if we got people signed up and paid before the end of December 2024.”

Registration for K-12 students is open now and runs until March 30. Those with questions can call Hillary Nutting at 907-747-7107 or email at The amount of funding provided will vary depending on the school the child attends and what meals they intend to eat.

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At a Glance

(updated 9-12-2023)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 8:57 a.m. Tuesday, September 12.

New cases as of Tuesday: 278

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 301,513

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,485

Case Rate per 100,000 – 38.14

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "Low.'' Case statistics are as of Tuesday.

Case Rate/100,000 – 152.50

Cases in last 7 days – 13

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,575

Deceased (cumulative) – 10

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.






March 2004

Photo caption: Fire engines and ambulances shine in the sun outside the new fire hall Saturday during an open house. Hundreds turned out to look over the $4 million facility, which is twice the size of the building it replaced. It features a state-of-the-art exhaust system and much larger offices and a large training room.


March 1974

The Sheldon Jackson Museum will have a special showing of replicas of ancient Tlingit hunting weapons. The replicas were made by A. P. Johnson, a Tlingit  culture instructor and metal arts teacher at SJC.


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