An Alaska teacher's dream to build a greenhouse so students can grow fresh veggies in the village of Quinhagak will likely become reality thanks to a $10,000 grant from former celebrity talk show host Jenny Jones. In a surprise phone call, Jones rang up teacher Sherry Pederson at the school last month to announce the award.
About 50 students and a group of teachers gathered in the room to hear the call over the intercom, participants said. A reporter also listened to the conference call.
About 660 people live in the Southwest Alaska village, where a lack of roads to other cities means everything is shipped by barge or airplane, pushing up prices for fruits, vegetables, and everything else.
Ms. Pederson is an English language development teacher currently on leave to care for her two young children. But she still helps the school with testing.
Her husband, Eric Pederson, who is the school site administrator, asked her to go to the room for a work meeting.
After she arrived and learned there was no work meeting, but a phone call from the former host of "The Jenny Jones Show," she says she was overwhelmed by the good news.
"Wow, thank you," she said repeatedly.
Pederson said she came up with the greenhouse idea because she loves gardening and her students always take an interest in the tomato plants she grows in a back room.
If students grow their own food in the greenhouse, they might eat less junk food and eat more vegetables, she said. She ticked off a list of vegetables she wants to grow there, including carrots, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, radishes, green onions, and parsley.
Ms. Jones said during the call that she spoke with Pederson's husband earlier and learned the family has no toilet, prompting outbursts of giggles from the audience.
"I guess that's kind of normal out there, but boy, over here, that's definitely what I'd call a hardship," says Jones, who lives in Los Angeles.
The night before the call, the former host of the show said she made a lot of money from the talk show (which ended in 2003 after a 12-year run), far more than she ever expected.
So she decided to create a foundation and sprinkle that money around the country to support projects that benefit communities.
Pederson's project beat out about 10,000 applications, Jones said.
Pederson said on her application that getting fresh food in the village can be difficult. "When I was a teacher, I had a student who thought grapes came from grape juice because she had never seen grapes. I strongly believe that a greenhouse would open up a whole new world for students," she wrote.
Jones said she couldn't deny the request. "It was a no-brainer," she says.
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