Food charities say demand is up

Posted: Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The spirit of charity always tends to come out around the holidays, but can it be enough to keep up with demand?

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Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire

Various Juneau charities report Thanksgiving food donations have not been coming in as strongly as last year. They say the problem is exacerbated because the need for these donations seems to be increasing.

At Friday's food drive, the Southeast Alaska Food Bank took in 13,747 pounds of food as opposed to last year's total, which manager Darren Adams said was about 20,000 pounds.

Adams said he believes this slowdown may be due to the economy, but is grateful that people donated whatever they could.

"I'm by no means disappointed," he said. "Beggars can't be choosers. I'm just very thankful for the generosity people have shown toward those who may be struggling with hunger."

He said given economic conditions, the amount raised Friday actually left him "pleasantly surprised."

Adams added last year's total greatly exceeded its quota of 6,000 pounds. It did not this time because that expectation was tripled.

Adams said the need for food has gotten stronger year round. He said about 1,500 pounds went toward agencies for Thanksgiving boxes on Monday and 1,900 pounds went out to 55 people on Saturday.

Thanksgiving food bags were also available at St. Vincent de Paul through the weekend, ending Monday. Volunteers Rena Sims and Paula Sumdum said they gave out around 400 turkeys and food bags, which is close to last year. They said the difference is those bags were a little lighter this year.

They said the bags still contained plenty of food with turkey, cans, stuffing and more, with pies arriving in time for late weekend bags.

"The bags weren't as full like they've been in the past, but everyone got a bag," said Sims. She said all the bags contained five cans and sides.

They said certain donated items, such as pies, beverages or extras, were down this year.

Sims said on top of the lower food donations, there was less cash donated. She said they were worried about their supplies until more food was donated at the last minute.

On top of the decreased donations, the demand for bags was greater, she said.

"Families last year that could buy their own can't this year," said Sims.

She said this is a "trickle-down effect" from the economy and unemployment. Sumdum said more companies are cutting out charities and grants.

Sims agreed, yet said if only 400 bags were needed in a city and borough this size, that's a good sign.

She said donations began arriving as early as the first week of November, saying, "Community members gave over and over."

One of those donors was attorney Myra Munson. She kept tabs on St. Vincent de Paul over the weekend and donated substantial amounts of food as needed.

Myron said she was inspired by her childhood Thanksgivings, which, more than once, also came in baskets. She hopes that everyone in Juneau is able to experience the holiday and that someday everyone will be able to provide it for themselves.

"What seems obvious is that while the economy has gotten worse, more people are needy," she said.

Other donors included Josh McDonald, Sears and Channel Construction.

The Glory Hole was also busy making and dispensing food boxes. Executive Director Mariya Lovishchuk said there were more than 250 boxes, which will feed about 1,000 people. She said this is about twice as much as was needed last year.

"I think what happened is the recession hit and the number of people in need increased. Now it's supposed to be over but I'm not seeing the number of people dropping," she said.

Lovishchuk said both money and food donations, some last-minute, have helped put more holiday food in the boxes but more is needed, such as pies and rolls plus other Thanksgiving foods.

She added next year they will definitely plan on having more boxes ready.

Some of these donors included The U.S. Forest Service, Juneau Central Labor Council, Senior Citizens Support Services, Department of Education, REACH and Wal-Mart.

These food boxes were assembled entirely by the shelter's patrons, with no outside community volunteers. Lovishchuk described the help coupled with the food donations as "a really cool thing to see."

Kitchen manager Aaron Haakon Valle-Arnes said he was astounded how well the whole operation came together on its first day.

The Salvation Army is also getting into the holiday charity spirit. It will host a meal with turkey from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at the Hangar on the Wharf.

Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at

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