District delivers meals to school kids

First Student employees Gian Santiago (left) and Ruth Jaochico hand lunch to Ethan Pherson, an 11th grader at Kodiak High School, on March 25.

Leon Wallace doesn’t consider himself a hero. He is simply the guy who feeds the school kids of Kodiak.

As the food service coordinator for the Kodiak Island Borough School District, Wallace’s duties increased as the coronavirus pandemic forced the shutdown of in-class schooling. He — along with a bevy of coworkers — continued to fuel students with breakfasts and lunches, packing thousands, six days a week, as part of the district’s meal delivery program.

Their efforts have landed them on CMT’s two-hour special “CMT Celebrates our Heroes” that airs today at 7 p.m. Alaska Standard Time. Country music superstar Blake Shelton will introduce the two-minute segment on the district’s food service program. The broadcast will also air on Paramount Network, Pop TV and TV Land.    

“The school district wanted to do this because lots of people were out of jobs — a lot of things were shutting down,” Wallace said. “Hero, I don’t know. We are just helping out the community.”

A Kodiak resident contacted a relative who works for CMT after reading Malcolm Bennett’s story about the food service program on the district’s Facebook page. Bennett conducted interviews for the segment, while John Malloy, the district’s educational technologist, operated the camera. 

They filmed the entire food service process, from prep to belly. 

“We got to interview a lot of really good people. I just feel bad that it is only going to be about a minute and 50 seconds long,” Malloy said. “We took at least 30 minutes of good footage.”

Malloy said the project took several weeks to complete, and he came away impressed after watching a first draft of the segment. 

“There has been so much more footage that we have given them since then that I have no idea what the final product looks like. We will see,” he said.

When schools closed in mid-March, the school district launched a delivery service to feed children ages 1 through 18. The meals were prepared and packed at the high school and delivered to children by school buses to various locations on the road system.

“If we didn’t have the program, some kids wouldn’t have any food to eat. The district has learned long ago, you can’t teach a hungry child,” District Superintendent Larry LeDoux told the Daily Mirror in March.

Before the pandemic, Wallace said his team prepped an average of 300 breakfasts and 1,000 lunches. That number increased to 1,600 breakfasts and lunches after schools closed. Wallace said 14,000 meals were prepared the Friday before Memorial Day weekend to get a well-deserved three-day break. 

How much food and material does it take to fill the brown paper bags? Try 80 cases of fruit, 30 cases of carrots and 30,000 sandwich bags a week. 

“If you went up to Costco in Anchorage to find sandwich bags, there would probably be none available,” he said. 

School ended last week, but Wallace said the district is continuing to serve meals during the summer. However, the workload has scaled back to 800 breakfasts and lunches.

The two-hour show on CMT will feature a slew of country stars who will recognize COVID-19 heroes in health care, education, business, community leaders, food industry, infrastructure, first responders and the U.S. military. 

“We are trying to help the best we can,” Wallace said. “We can’t help everybody, but we are trying to take care of the children.”

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