With the pandemic hitting everyone economically, the members of the Juneau educational support staff union elected to do what they could, paying off thousands of dollars of school meal balances.
The money came from the travel and training budgets for the union. In light of the pandemic, many opportunities for spending the funds were canceled due to the pandemic, said Catherine Pusich, the board’s public relations officer, in an email.
“The Juneau Education Support Staff Local 6096 Executive Board started thinking about how to use the money in April,” Pusich said. “We all wanted to help families and students in the community and as the pandemic continued we started realizing how everyone needed to have some kindness come into their lives — they needed good news.”
The union paid off the balances for 564 students, totalling $7,446. Letters went out in the days before Christmas letting students and families know of the donation.
“We have been able to see firsthand how this pandemic has affected some of our more vulnerable students and this donation from JESS will at least take one thing off the table that they will not have to worry about,” said Elizabeth White, a union member and meal cashier at Sayèik: Gastineau Community School. “We are pleased that they saw fit to use the money to take care of the families that are close to our hearts.”
It’s not the first time JESS has donated to the fund, Pusich said.
“Every year the JESS Union makes a donation either to the Juneau School District Free Breakfast Program, which helps offset the costs of serving a free breakfast to all elementary and middle school students, or the Food Service Humanitarian Fund, which helps pay unpaid meal balances on a much smaller scale,” Pusich said.
JESS is composed of support staff for the school district, Pusich said, which covers many categories. Members range from school nurses to para-educators to office staff to custodians and maintenance teams.
“This donation comes from the extraordinary classified support staff in each school,” Pusich said. “This donation would not have happened without these employees joining together to make their union strong and ready to help their community.”