Next week, the Southeast Alaska Food Bank will become as homeless as some of its best customers.
The food bank has no choice but to close its doors temporarily on March 31, its board of directors decided at an emergency meeting Monday night, said food bank President Robin Phillips.
"We have no place to operate out of," said Phillips. "That means we'll have to quit passing out food and put whatever we have into storage until we find a facility to rent or lease." The bank hands out tens of thousands of pounds of food a year.
For the last few years, SEAFB has been operating from St. Vincent DePaul's, which was donating space free. Due to expansion projects there, however, the food bank has to move.
The food bank needs 1,100 square feet that can accommodate freezers and refrigerators, "but at this point we would probably take anything we can get," Phillips said. There is space available for the food bank to move into, but it does not have the funds to rent or lease a location.
More than 25 member agencies pick up food at the bank.
"The food bank is an integral part of our total food pantry operation," said Major Larry Fankhauser of the Salvation Army. "Probably 60 to 70 percent of the food we are able to distribute comes from them. If they shut down totally, it would affect us heavily."
SEAFB was founded in 1991 by Greg Pease and Gastineau Human Services. Pease, as a member of a statewide task force on the homeless, worked with the Armed Forces Logistical Center to donate wool blankets.
"While we were handing out blankets, I got the idea that after Desert Storm we could get federal surplus food," he said, referring to the gulf war in 1991.
Pease got four containers of field rations. They were distributed out of GHS, the Salvation Army and other nonprofit organizations in Haines (where the unemployment rate was then over 30 percent), Sitka (just after the pulp mill closed) and Juneau a total of 450,000 meals, Pease said.
The food bank, which Pease named, first used a warehouse at GHS.
"I am glad the closing of the food bank is temporary. I think that every community needs one. It's an ideal way to get food into the hands of the needy," he said.
Zack Gordon Youth Center is one of the agencies that relies on the food bank.
"The food we got from the bank was important. It's a real disappointment. We'll definitely miss it," said acting director Christy West.
West has been sending a staff member to the food bank about once a week to choose several cartons of food, including milk, yogurt, peanut butter and jelly. Some is used to stage a pasta dinner once a month.
"We have built keeping food around into our routine recently. It changes things when you sit down and eat together," West said. "All kids are hungry, and it's really nice to have food available. When a teen hasn't eaten at home and needs to power up for a test, he knows he can eat here."
The Douglas Breeze Inn has been giving Zack Gordon leftover bagels and pasta salad, which they retrieve daily. But that won't make up for the gap in supplies from the food bank, West said. "We'll have to look for other sources."
The food bank's board of directors will spend the next two weeks trying to locate a place for the food bank to move into temporarily so that it will not have to shut its doors.
"Finding a permanent location is the No. 1 priority," Phillips said. If there are funds to cover costs, she would like to hear about them. Interested parties should call the bank at 789-6184.
In an effort to raise funds for rent and expenses, the SEAFB, the Elks Club of Juneau, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and Holland America Line Westours Inc., are sponsoring a "Thanksgiving in March" benefit dinner and dance, March 24, at the Elks Club. For details, call 789-6184 or 586-4985.
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