Keeping produce on the menu: Church picks up state’s slack

An eleventh-hour donation to the Bristol Bay Borough School is keeping fresh fruits and vegetables on students’ plates this year.

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Just before the start of school this fall, Bristol Bay school kitchen manager Tanya Dube had a salad bar to fill, and not enough funds to fill it.

CREDIT TANYA DUBE. Shared via kdlg.org.
CREDIT TANYA DUBE. Shared via kdlg.org.

“It was called the Alaska Nutritional Foods in Schools program. And with the shortfall in the Legislature, that program was cut.”

Over the last three years, Dube used $27,000 from that program to buy Alaska-Grown products, mostly center-of-plate items like Bristol Bay salmon and meat from the Interior. That had freed up more of her regular budget to buy fresh produce for what she says was a very popular salad bar. But suddenly, the funds for Alaska Grown food were gone.

“So I was lamenting to a community member how that was going to impact the variety of fruits and vegetables I was able to offer… And I really honestly didn’t think too much about it, until about two weeks later, my superintendent Bill Hill told me that we received a donation from the church.”

“I think learning to eat right is also a part of a child’s education.”

BJ Hill, the woman behind the gift, volunteers as a caretaker for Saint Theresa’s Catholic Church.

A student at the Bristol Bay Borough School chooses oranges from the salad bar. CREDIT TANYA DUBE. Shared via kdlg.org.
A student at the Bristol Bay Borough School chooses oranges from the salad bar.
CREDIT TANYA DUBE. Shared via kdlg.org.

“Here was this wonderful program was in place and… I don’t know, I just started thinking… my husband was born and raised in Bush Alaska and it took me a long time to teach him how to eat a fresh salad. So I just thought well here they’re trying to do it in school and they’re going to lose the funding.”

Hill says she became determined to help keep the fruits and veggies program going. She started looking into the church coffers, and brought her idea to the rest of the parishioners.

“I must say that I did speak to the congregation about what I really wanted to do and they backed me 100%. Nobody said nix.”

Drawing from regular collections as well as earnings from the church’s gaming permit, Hill came up with $10 thousand dollars. She offered the amount to Superintendent Bill Hill, who she says accepted after confirming with lawyers that the donation was legal.

For Hill, charitable giving is a natural reaction to the current belt-tightening around Alaska.

“Everything is just skyrocketing out here. Boy, I hate to see the population drop off, and I hate to see the kids shortchanged.”

Back in the school, Dube says the roughly 100 students are enjoying the salad bar’s renewed bounty.

“Strawberries, and starfruit, and avocados, and all kinds of great things.”

In September, Dubesubmitted a letter to Governor Walker asking him to put a version of the Nutritional Alaskan Foods in Schools program back in the state’s 2017 budget.

The Bristol Bay Borough school's salad bar was purchased with a grant in 2013.
The Bristol Bay Borough school’s salad bar was purchased with a grant in 2013.