Tenth annual Fish To Schools coho donation drive has a new partner

Sitka commercial troller Eric Jordan discusses the fishing industry with local students during a Fish To Schools have lunch with a fisherman event (photo courtesy Sitka Conservation Society)

(The following was submitted as a letter to the editor that ran in the Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel)

Sitka’s Fish to Schools program is celebrating a decade of bringing locally caught seafood lunches into all of Sitka’s schools. While the program typically relies solely on donations from local fishermen, Sitka Producers Cooperative (SPC) and Sitka Sounds Seafoods, (SSS) this year the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) will also be purchasing fish. We’re grateful that ALFA’s investment in food security will ensure that Sitka’s kids have access to nourishing foods, while circulating money in the local economy and taking pressure off of fishermen during a challenging summer.

The coho donation drive will operate as usual from Aug. 15 to Sept. 15, and all contributions are welcome and appreciated. Sitka’s fishermen are the heart and soul of the Fish to Schools program and this program wouldn’t exist without their generosity and dedication to feeding the next generation of ocean stewards.

Linda Behnken, Executive Director of ALFA, said on the program, “Sitka fishermen and local processors SPC and Sitka Sound Seafoods have long supported Fish to Schools and have donated generously over the years. ALFA/ASFT (Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust) are grateful to be in a position this year to support the purchase of seafood for schools to take the pressure off Sitka fishermen and processors who are reeling from the impacts of COVID-19.“

Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School student Naomi Capp, age 9, talks with fisherman Steve Lawrie Wednesday (April 25, 2018) during lunch at the school. The elementary school was hosting fishermen who donated part of their catch to the Fish to Schools program. The program is managed by the Sitka Conservation Society and provides fish dishes as part of the lunch programs at Baranof Elementary School, Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School, Blatchley Middle School, Sitka High School, Pacific High School, the SEER School, and Mount Edgecumbe High School. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

The Sitka Fish to Schools program brings locally caught seafood lunches and salmon-focused classroom curricula into schools. The mission of this program is to deepen youth understanding of local seafood resources and teach children that salmon require respect in both harvest and habitat. Fish to Schools lays the groundwork for Sitka’s youth to discover how the commercial fishing industry operates and inspires students to support or become involved in one of Southeast Alaska’s most important economic sectors. Having access to local seafood reminds us how lucky we are to be Alaskans!

“Ten years of Fish to Schools in Sitka has flown by. The best part of being involved in this program is witnessing how many community members care about our local kids and want to help this program succeed. To me, Fish to Schools really exemplifies how wonderful our community is,” longtime program supporter Lexi Fish said. She continued, “my daughter was a kindergartener last year and loved eating the school lunch on Wednesdays — salmon burgers were her favorite.”

Since it became a community wellness project at the 2010 Sitka Health Summit, the Fish to Schools program has been a partner-rich endeavor. Local processors including Sitka Sound Seafoods and the Seafood Producers Cooperative, the Sitka School District, Mount Edgecumbe High School, the SEER School, Head Start — and in particular the cafeteria teams at those facilities — along with community members Lexi Fish and Beth Short-Rhoads have all been key players in realizing this initiative from the ground up. We’re happy to expand this list this year to include ALFA. And of course, the program would not be possible without such strong support from the local fishermen who donate their catch to the program, nourishing students with the Omega-3s and other vitamins wild salmon provide.

To donate, tell scale operators how many fish you would like to donate as you offload at Seafood Producers Cooperative or Sitka Sound Seafoods. If fishermen have yelloweye rockfish overage, they are welcome to donate them to Fish to Schools as well. If you would like to donate to Fish to Schools, please contact Heather Bauscher of Sitka Conservation Society at heather@sitkawild.org or 747-7509 for more information.

Sincerely,

Sitka Conservation Society

• Easter Group to auction off painted boots to raise money for the homeless during the Sept. 15 Sitka Farmers Market

The Easter Group will raise money for Sitka’s Project Homeless Connect event when it auctions off several pairs of painted rubber boots during the final Sitka Farmers Market of the season, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15, at Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall (235 Katlian St.).

The white rubber boots were a donation from Sitka Sound Seafoods, which found them inadequate for its slippery floors. According to Dorrie Ferrell, the unpainted boots were available to Sitka’s homeless residents during the Project Homeless Connect event in January, but only a couple of of pairs were taken. So the boots were given to local artists to paint, and now they will be auctioned off to help raise money for future Project Homeless Connect projects.

The boots will be on display at Kettleson Memorial Library from Sept. 1-14, when they will be moved to a booth at the Sept. 15 Sitka Farmers Market for the auction. The auctioneer will be Brock Bauder. In addition to Project Homeless Connect and other projects to combat homelessness in Sitka, Easter Group also supports the local Blessings in a Backpack program, which sends food home on the weekend with school children whose families need food assistance. For more information, contact Easter Group at info@eastergroup.org.

And don’t forget the Running of the Boots fundraiser for the Sitka Local Foods Network is on Saturday, Sept. 29, at Crescent Harbor shelter, which is a perfect time to wear your newly purchased painted rubber boots. Registration opens and the Sitka Blues Band starts playing at 10 a.m., costume judging is at 10:30 a.m., and the fun run is at 11 a.m.

• Fish to Schools program to serve fish lunches at two schools twice a month

The Fish to Schools program will kick off this year’s schedule of serving fish lunches at school on Wednesday, Sept. 14.

Local fish lunches will be served every second and fourth Wednesday of the month at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary and Blatchley Middle School as a hot lunch option. This is a Sitka Health Summit project that got started last year with once-a-month fish meals at Blatchley, so this is a major expansion of the program. The goal is to get more wild, local fish into school lunches.

These fresh and tasty meals will be prepared with locally caught fish donated by Seafood Producers Cooperative and Sitka Sound Seafoods. Encourage your children to eat healthy and choose fish for lunch. It’s yummy and good for you.

Sitka Conservation Society Community Sustainability Organizer Tracy Gagnon was interviewed about the program on Aug. 22 on KCAW-Raven Radio, and you can listen to the interview at this link. For more information about the project, contact Tracy at 747-7509 or tracy@sitkawild.org.