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Feeding Juneau one donated item at a time

Posted: October 9, 2013 - 12:03am
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Darren Adams, manager of the Southeast Alaska Food Bank, carries in a box of donations on Tuesday. Adams has been the manager for eight years.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Darren Adams, manager of the Southeast Alaska Food Bank, carries in a box of donations on Tuesday. Adams has been the manager for eight years.

Nestled behind a swath of auto body shops and various service centers near the Brotherhood Bridge lies a small shack responsible for feeding up to 4,000 Juneauites every month.

The metal building doesn’t look like much at the end of a pothole-riddled gravel driveway, but it houses the Southeast Alaska Food Bank, which collects and distributes thousands of pounds of food through its doors each week.

“I don’t think people who have never been inside realize how important the food bank is for people. It feeds a lot of this community,” Sally Willson, a volunteer for the AWARE Shelter, said as she collected food from the food bank Tuesday.

The AWARE Shelter, which helps victims of domestic violence and their families, is just one of many agencies in Juneau that rely on the food bank for at least a portion of their give-away food supply. Some of the other entities that collect from the shelter include the Glory Hole, St. Vincent de Paul and several local churches.

Last year, more than 200,000 pounds of food passed through the doors of the small, metal shack.

“We’re the main hub for all the food that gets donated by stores,” said Darren Adams, who is both the manager and sole employee at the food bank.

In an ideal scenario, the food bank would have enough donated food to meet the demands of the community, but that hasn’t been the case in recent months — Adams
attributes the change in recent months to a combination of increased demand and decreased donations.

Either way, when supplies run low, Adams has to go shopping.

“We go through whatever food we have,” Adams said. “In the last few months there’s been a lot more shopping.”

The food bank is located on Crazy Horse Drive, and is open for nonprofits to pick up food to be distributed Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., but if someone shows up hungry one of those days, enough food will be given to tide them over until Saturday when the public is welcome to come get perishable goods for free.

Last Saturday, more than 2,500 pounds of food was given to about 60 people at the center.

“Most of the people coming have one or two jobs and are just trying to find a way to make it all work,” Adams said. “So I tell them to come here before going grocery shopping, because if they can get a gallon of milk or some bread, it stretches their budget that much further.”

Area food suppliers like Walmart, Fred Meyer, Super Bear, Breeze In, Safeway, Costco, Rainbow Foods and Northern Sales freely supply the food bank with thousands of pounds of foods that have passed the “Sell By” dates, but are still safe to eat.

One-week limits are placed on milk, and other dairies must be distributed within two weeks of the sell-by date, so the entire stock of those items and other perishables are given away to the public every week.

“If people clean out their cupboards and maybe take a case of food they bought from Costco and give one or two cans — that might be somebody’s dinner,” Adams said.

Still, some of highest demand items usually sell before being donated to the food bank, Adams added.

“What we need the most are canned goods like canned fruit, meat, soup and chili — items people are more apt to eat around wintertime. The cost of living is what gets people in a bind, especially in the winter when people may have to choose,” he said. “‘Do I fill my oil tank or get groceries?’”

Between 15 and 20 volunteers help Adams run the food bank every month, and the effort is headed by a nine-member board of directors.

The operation is funded in part by dues paid by organizations that collect food from the food bank and by contributions from the United Way, but the majority of its budget — 65 percent — comes from community donations.

In fact, the land and building that house the food bank were donated by private parties about 15 to 20 years ago, Adams said.

“We live in a very generous community,” he said.

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at matthew.woolbright@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reportermatt.

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