New school lunch program is hot commodity

Providing comfort food for all kids of all ages,

Gagnier cooks up meals kids like to eat

STORY and PHOTOS by STAN BUSH

If you haven’t seen kids roaming the streets of Skagway at noon on weekdays don’t be alarmed. The kids are not missing, but are occupied nonetheless. With the help of the Skagway City School and local cooking marvel Jaime Gagnier, students enjoy a well-rounded lunch in the friendly confines of the school’s multi-purpose room.

Jaime Gagnier serving up the goods.

Every day during the lunch period students from first to 12th grades form a line that could reach the far confines of Eldred Rock in order to dive into the cuisine made by Gagnier. In his assistance is a small group of sixth graders that rotate to help a chef that is cooking in a room meant for a classroom not a cafeteria. And for a program that started only seven days before the first day of school, the hot lunch program definitely seems to be alive and kicking.
“My goal was to get 80 students and I guess it’s going really well,” Gagnier said. “We’ve already reached our goal.”
Plans for a program had started in mid-June, however it wasn’t until much later that the position was advertised and awarded to Gagnier.
“Now I know why Julie always calls me ‘Merlin’,” said Gagnier. “She swears that I’m a magician at getting people fed.”
Gagnier says the secret to getting kids to like his cooking is to feed them what they want. He ended up calling his niece in Missouri for suggestions on what to serve. The next day the little girl called to give him a report on what she had researched that day at the cafeteria.
Gagnier swears the program would have flopped if it weren’t for the help of his kitchen crew of Tyson Ames and sixth-grade staff. However the students don’t seem to see it as work, more of an escape from it.

Erica Harris serves up a helping of potatoes to Audrey Neitzer in the lunch line.

“It’s just fun,” said sixth grader Teslyn Korsmo. “I don’t really know why but it is.”
Korsmo and some other elementary students hinted that the working atmosphere and their boss make for an enjoyable time.
“He’s (Gagnier) lots of fun and just cool,” said Cici Hahn. “He makes a lot of jokes and looks at everything positively.”
And while the man who some call “Merlin” may see the glass half full, even now he has plans for the future of the thriving program.
“I’ve already laid a cafeteria out in my mind that could go in the multi-purpose room,” Gagnier said.
Gagnier is loving his job. With a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye he adamantly stated that in two months he has learned more then he has in the last 10 years. He feels that it has pulled him out of a mental slump.
Don’t expect Gagnier to take much of the credit though, he has a long list of people that he wants to thank for the support and supplies that they have offered him (see letters to the editor).

Amanda Jensen, Kayla Henricksen, and Devin Fairbanks indulge in the fine cuisine now served at the Skagway City School as Superintendent James Telles observes.

So the streets will most likely stay empty from noon to one. The man called Merlin is busy in what is likely the smallest cafeteria this side of the Continental Divide, cooking by himself for an entire school. But he doesn’t seem to mind.
“It’s the best food for the least amount of money,” said Gagnier. “You can’t beat that.”