Volunteer Michael Starr restocks shelves at the Southeast Alaska Food Bank on Crazy Horse Drive in October 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Volunteer Michael Starr restocks shelves at the Southeast Alaska Food Bank on Crazy Horse Drive in October 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Food banks adapt to coronavirus

Closed offices and schools will only drive need.

While many of Juneau’s offices and schools shutter their buildings, some Juneau citizens are keeping the lights on to help out their neighbors.

“The other volunteers and my three kids will be down at the food bank,” said Emily Wall, a volunteer at the food pantry for the Douglas Methodist Church, in a phone interview. “I’ll be the only one at the door.”

Douglas Methodist and other food pantries, including Resurrection Lutheran Church and the Southeast Alaska Food Bank, will remain open for the time being, though that may be subject to change.

“We’re going to stay open and decide whether to open next week or just allow a few people at a time, do some social distancing,” said Resurrection Lutheran pastor Karen Perkins in a phone interview.

Many in the community are likely to need the services of the food pantry in the weeks to come as many jobs reduce hours or temporarily furlough employees. Food pantry and food bank managers and volunteers hope donations will keep up with demand.

[Westerdam is no longer coming to Juneau]

“We handed out a little over 2,100 pounds (of food) in an hour,” said Southeast Alaska Food Bank manager Chris Schapp in a phone interview Monday. “The need is great. People are going to be displaced from work and school, the need is going to be more.”

As great as the need is, employees and volunteers are taking measures to ensure risk minimization from cross-contamination.

“All the hard, heavy lifting, metaphorical and literal, is done by a crew of women in their 70s and 80s,” said Wall. “They work really hard to keep the food bank running.”

The elderly and those with pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions are the highest risk from the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization.

Wall will work with younger volunteers, including her children, to bag food to hand to people at the door, minimizing contact and possible contamination.

“It’s an all hands on deck kind of thing,” Schapp said. “Everyone needs to support everyone else.”

Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran will be handing out pre-bagged items to those who need them.

“It’s not the ideal way to run a food pantry, but for right now, it works,” said Pastor Tari Stage-Harvey in a phone interview Tuesday. “Normally we have a wide assortment of items, so each bag has mostly the same things.”

St. Brendan’s Episcopal will be handing out bags of food during their food pantry hours this Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m, said Priest Caroline Malseed in a phone interview Tuesday. But that’ll be all for St. Brendan’s for the foreseeable future, Malseed said.

The Salvation Army will hold open hours for their food pantry from 4-6 p.m. on Thursdays, canceling their Tuesday hours, said Salvation Army officer Gina Halverson in a phone interview Tuesday.

“We encourage people to call in so we can have it premade and so people don’t have to be here long,” Halverson said.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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