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Food bank faces empty shelves as demand increases in summer

Organization needs donations of food, or will dip into its funds

Posted: Thursday, July 01, 2004

Six shelves at the Southeast Alaska Food Bank in Juneau are completely empty.

Other shelves don't have much more: two jars of Jif extra crunchy peanut butter, seven jars of Prego traditional spaghetti sauce, and 23 cans of Enfamil infant formula, to name a few.

"We're getting to the point where if we don't get a large food drive, we'll have to purchase it," food bank manager Diane Kenski said Wednesday.

Kenski has enough food to last about three days. Then she may need to tap the food bank fund and grant money given by Fred Meyer. That money would buy about a month's worth of goods. The next food drives are not scheduled until this fall.

The food bank, located on Crazy Horse Drive in Juneau, serves the homeless, abused women and children. It distributes food through 33 member agencies and offers individual distributions on Saturdays at its site.

People can bring donations to the food bank Monday through Friday or mail them to 10020 Crazy Horse Drive, Juneau, AK 99801. Monetary donations can be made on the food bank's Web site at seafb.org.

The food bank can use such items as canned fruit, vegetables, rice, oatmeal, pasta, flour and sugar. It cannot accept homemade products or expired baby food. It also accepts Super Bear price smashers.

Increased demand at food pantries is an issue statewide because of a downward economy, said Susannah Morgan, executive director at Food Bank of Alaska, which distributes food statewide.

"It's getting worse every year and this last year has been worse by a significant margin," Morgan said.

Morgan is seeing a 30 percent to 100 percent increase in needy people at food pantries across the state, she said. The Food Bank of Alaska distributed 4.3 million pounds of food in the 2003-2004 fiscal year, up from 3.5 million pounds the previous year.

In 2002, 11.8 percent of Alaskans were "food insecure" compared to 8.7 percent in 1998, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study. Food security is defined by someone's ability to readily access enough food to live a healthy life, Morgan said. One in five children and one in 10 adults is at risk of going to bed hungry, Kenski said.

The cost of housing, lack of medical insurance and wages not keeping pace with rising living costs are primary contributors to an increased demand for food, Kenski and Morgan said. Children used to eating subsidized meals at school don't get them while on summer vacation.

Last year, Southeast Alaska Food Bank distributed about 19,000 pounds of food per month compared to about 22,000 pounds per month this year, Kenski said.

Catherine Ames, a nutrition counselor and case manager for St. Vincent de Paul's Family Resource Center, has noticed a decline in supply at the food bank in Juneau. Ames works for Catholic Community Service, which runs the program for St. Vincent de Paul. When buying food for some of the center's programs, she's had to rely more on local grocery stores, she said. The center provides meals for a youth activities program, Parents Anonymous meetings and a day care center.

"It's a financial drain on us," she said.

Donations during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are robust and then quickly drop off, creating a struggle through the spring and summer, Kenski said.

In November and December of 2003, the food bank collected 30,000 pounds of food. It collected only half of that for May and June this year.

The food bank has two fall food drives scheduled to carry into the holiday season later this year, Kenski said.

• Tara Sidor can be reached at tara.sidor@juneauempire.com.



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