Let’s put the bottom line at the top: Restaurant and Hunger Relief raised attendance at the Step Up school program by 40 percent.
That was the word from Wiley Bland, a teacher at Step Up, an alternative school for Anchorage middle and high school students who have been suspended for at least a semester or expelled from their regular schools. Step Up, located in the Sunshine Plaza Mall, provides supports, counseling, and curriculum to keep students learning and on track for graduation.
Step Up Principal Saundra Senior said that Catherine Curtis of United Way connected the school with Restaurant and Hunger Relief after Curtis learned of the school’s need for meals.
Restaurant and Hunger Relief, which ran from early November to the end of April, used federal pandemic relief money to buy meals from restaurants to help nonprofits feed their clients, ranging from preschoolers to seniors. The program kept restaurants in business, workers employed, and hungry Alaskans fed.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” Senior said. Restaurant lunch deliveries began when Step Up, like all the schools in Anchorage, resumed in-person attendance for the last quarter. So the lunch menu at the school, which has limited kitchen facilities, went from microwave fare – Hot Pockets and corn dogs – to about 45 days of jambalaya, pizza, beef stroganoff, turkey sandwiches, and more from Gumbo House, Matanuska Brewing Company, and the Blueliner. Portions were generous enough that leftovers went home with the kids.
“What’s for lunch?” became the question of the day, Bland said. “What’s the surprise today?”
“Nobody eats breakfast at home,” said Andrew Knoll, another Step Up teacher. The four middle school and six high school students enrolled for the last quarter were in “not-a-perfect-world” home lives, ranging from foster care to living with a friend’s family to living with older siblings. “Having lunch is really important.”
That lunch was often with teachers. “It’s really like family-style,” Bland said. The family-style was another chance for the social and emotional learning that is part of Step Up’s work to get the kids back to their regular schools in a healthy frame of mind. A good meal shared helps, and Bland said the kids appreciated the quality and put nothing to waste.
“They didn’t hesitate to sign the thank-you cards.”