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Glory Hole donations drop off in time of need

Shelter, soup kitchen braces for winter

Posted: October 25, 2011 - 11:54pm
Mariya Lovishchuk, executive director of the Glory Hole, helps volunteer Mark Mergenthal organize their freezer at the downtown soup kitchen on Tuesday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Mariya Lovishchuk, executive director of the Glory Hole, helps volunteer Mark Mergenthal organize their freezer at the downtown soup kitchen on Tuesday.

The Glory Hole staff is hoping the people of Juneau will be even more generous about donating foodstuff and funds to the shelter and soup kitchen on South Franklin Street as temperatures begin to drop and winter encroaches on the city.

Glory Hole Executive Director Mariya Lovishchuk said contributions from the community have decreased by 9.2 percent compared to this month last year.

“I am so grateful for the community support we receive,” Lovishchuk said in an interview Tuesday, adding perhaps one reason for the slowdown is that most people are in a financial pinch themselves. “But I think if those who can afford to help the people who are the most in need, that would really help us.”

By this time last year, the community had donated about $109,000, she said, much higher than this year’s $98,000.

The decline comes at a particularly bad time, Lovishchuk elaborated, since a $20,000 federal grant expired this summer. The temporary grant was only available for two years, but its disappearance amounts to a grant revenue loss of 23 percent, she said.

“We’ll make do but it’s really hard,” she said. “It’s really impacting us because every penny was spent.”

The Glory Hole is funded partially though the state’s matching grants program and the Alaska Housing and Finance Corporation, which gives about $40,000 annually to the nonprofit. The City and Borough of Juneau also budgets $25,000 to help with operational spending, Lovishchuk said.

But what really makes Lovishchuk anxious, she says, is the facility, which has 43 available beds for men and women, is serving more and more people each year. This year to date, the center has served 40,573 meals — about the same amount the center served in all of 2010, she said.

“The numbers (of meals served) from year to year are going up,” she said, noting a recent survey showed 10 percent of people in Juneau go hungry or are “food insecure,” meaning they don’t know where they will get their next meal. “They’re probably going to be up at least 20 percent (from last year). ... We are really bracing ourselves to give out more food. It’s a little scary.”

In 2008, the year the Great Recession hit, the Glory Hole served more than 60,000 meals.

She called last winter a “horrible disaster” when more people than she ever imagined turned up at the shelter seeking food and refuge from the cold. But no one was turned away, although one family was referred to the AWARE shelter, and she placed cots and blankets to accommodate the overflow.

“This is a magical building,” she said with a smile. “The space expands and contracts based on need.”

She added because a rising number of people are using the shelter — often women with children and families, she says — eventually she will have to double the number of staff. Right now, one person stays on the floor level during the morning shift to be with the patrons, who are not allowed to stay upstairs in the bed area during the day, and one staffer is there for the afternoon/night shift. She said two people will be needed per shift to resolve disputes and help with whatever issues arise, she said.

The Glory Hole is run by staffers who are former patrons and community volunteers. They do everything from cleaning to cooking to helping to manage the shelter. Patrons or clients are allowed to stay overnight at the shelter for 60 days. A shelter manager helps run the place, and a special projects coordinator helps with case management. Mental health professionals are on call in case there is an emergency, but Lovishchuk wants to one day bring a trained social worker on staff.

With finances already tight, Lovishchuk says she has worked especially hard in recent years to reduce operational costs at the shelter, which was first established in the 1980s. The soup kitchen received a grant from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. last year to build a garden on its rooftop so staff can grow their own vegetables, and the shelter is in the process of partnering with the University of Alaska Southeast’s Cold Climate Construction Program to “weatherize” the building sometime in the near future to cut down on utility costs. The utility bill last month was about $3,000, she said.

On Tuesday, 34 people were staying overnight in the shelter and many more turned out for a hot lunch.

“It’s actually amazing how much food we are able to provide,” she said, praising the local businesses that donate food and her staff that cooks and prepares it.

She added, “I understand most people might be having a hard time themselves. But it would be really, really helpful to us if they donated whatever they can.”

She says The Glory Hole is always in need of greens, rice and beans and other staples. And for the holiday food boxes that will be given out around Thanksgiving — 347 were given out last year — they are looking for donations of turkeys, canned food (especially corn, peas and fruit), mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls and pies.

For information on how to donate, call 586-4159 or visit www.feedjuneau.org. For those interested in receiving a holiday food box, call 586-4159 to place an order by Nov. 20, or stop by 247 S. Franklin St.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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