Thomas Moreno, Southeast Alaska Food Bank employee, unloads food at the food bank on Feb. 18, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Thomas Moreno, Southeast Alaska Food Bank employee, unloads food at the food bank on Feb. 18, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Amid adversity, Juneau’s food banks soldier on

Demand up and donations down is not a good trajectory.

As the pandemic rolls on, Juneau’s food banks have been hard-hit by increased demand for foodstuffs and decreased ability to hold fundraisers.

“We’re almost a year into everything we’ve done for COVID,” said Chris Schapp, manager of the Southeast Alaska Food Bank, in a phone interview. “Everything’s changed in the way we do things and the way we think of things.”

Increased demand on Southeast Alaska Food Bank has been as much as double the regular strain. The food bank also works with 42 member agencies to supply smaller food banks in the region, in addition to helping people who come to the food bank, either for themselves, or in many cases, friends or family needing assistance, Schapp said.

“The demand is definitely higher. We track the numbers of food in and food out year to year,” Schapp said. “Before COVID, we were seeing an average of 60 to 90 people a week. Now, 193 was the highest and that was less than a month ago.”

Other food banks are in equally dire straits.

“The demand is quite high. When we open our doors, we get anywhere from 50-100 people a night and we’re open two days a week. One person could be coming in for a family of five,” said Karen Fortwengler, director of the Helping Hands Food Bank of Juneau, in a phone interview. “It’s been steady. We see a lot of the same people each of the nights. The pandemic has hit us hard with our supply coming as well. We do the best with what we got.”

Monetary donations to Southeast Alaska Food Bankare up a little, Schapp said, but physical food donations are down for both food banks.

“Last year, we lost a lot of our funding, and I have a feeling it’s going to be the same way this year too,” Fortwengler said. “We’re struggling but the real purpose is to make sure people in the community who are struggling get help.”

The Southeast Alaska Food Bank, shown here on Feb. 18, 2021 is partnered with dozens of agencies in the Southeast to supply food to their organizations. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

The Southeast Alaska Food Bank, shown here on Feb. 18, 2021 is partnered with dozens of agencies in the Southeast to supply food to their organizations. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Demands of times

COVID-19 precautions have also decreased flexibility and increased staffing demands.

“When COVID first started, we used to have our pantry where people could file through the building and people could take what they needed. We changed it to pre-boxing of items and handing them out at front. We did that for a while,” Schapp said. “At some point, down the road somewhere, when we go back to a sense of normalcy, we’ll go back to having people file through so we don’t have the demand for pre-boxing.”

Southeast Alaska Food Bank and Helping Hands both rely heavily on volunteers to assist in preparing and arranging food for pickup at their locations. Helping Hands has over 15 people that volunteer over the week, Fortwengler said, and Southeast Alaska Food Bank has dozens of volunteers in addition to two full-time staff, Schapp said.

“We are all volunteers. No one in our organization gets paid for anything. We give the food for free,” Fortwengler said. “We’re focused on our community. We concentrate on the people in the community.”

Local organizations, including stores like Fred Meyer and IGA grocery stores, are instrumental in keeping the banks supplied, Schapp said. Other organizations have donated money to keep the bank running, including Hecla Greens Creek Mine, Petro Marine, and the Juneau Community Foundation, Schapp said.

“We’ve had some really nice generous donations from local businesses. A lot of local businesses have stepped up and made sure we’re taken care of,” Schapp said. “We buy between $5,000 and $8,000 worth of food from local supermarkets each month to keep our shelves full.”

Southeast Alaska Food Bank has been around since the ‘90s, according their website, and Helping Hands has been around even longer, Fortwengler said.

“We started in a garage in 1983. I think we were the first food bank in Juneau, if i’m not mistaken,” Fortwengler said. “It’s been going for a long time. It’s been going with volunteer power and it’s been going with fundraising.”

Chris Shapp, manager of the Southeast Alaska Food Bank, stands outside the food bank on Feb. 18, 2021 as a van full of food donations arrives. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Chris Shapp, manager of the Southeast Alaska Food Bank, stands outside the food bank on Feb. 18, 2021 as a van full of food donations arrives. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Want to help?

The Southeast Alaska Food Bank has a number of ways you can help on their website at http://www.sealaskafoodbank.org/donate/, including monetary donations, volunteering, or donating food at their warehouse at 10020 Crazy Horse Drive, Juneau, AK, 99801.

Helping Hands accepts donations at their warehouse on Tuesday and Saturdays at 6590 Glacier Highway, Juneau AK, 99801. They also accept donations at their Venmo at @HelpingHands-FoodBank. More information is available at 907-957-6632.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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