The Sealaska Corporation Building at Egan Drive and Main Street as seen in June 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

The Sealaska Corporation Building at Egan Drive and Main Street as seen in June 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Sealaska Corporation creates $1 million fund for coronavirus relief

$500,000 toward dealing with immediate needs have already been disbursed.

The Sealaska board of directors has created a $1 million relief and recovery package for Alaska Native communities in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.

“The hope is right now for immediate needs,” said Joe Nelson, chairman of the board of the Sealaska Corporation. “There are a lot of organizations that are doing good work year round that we need. There are basic needs, gaps that need to be filled all the time.”

The fund is intended to support Alaska Native communities and organizations as the effects of the coronavirus tear through Southeast Alaska. One of the biggest priorities, Nelson said, is making sure that the immediate needs of residents, such as food, are met, including the supply chains that feed the outlying communities.

“It’s the immediate needs. We’re getting food on the table for people who need it. Prior to this fund, we did do a contribution to the food bank,” Nelson said. “We are a nimble creative people so we’ll figure out how to make things work. We’re trying to identify gaps and fill them as we can.”

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Half a million dollars was disbursed immediately, according to release from Sealaska Corporation. Much of that was dedicated to food banks and to the logistical chains ensuring that food gets to outlying communities, Nelson said.

That includes boats and planes to transport it. The other $500,000 is being held as a hedge against future need.

“We’re being more mindful of the issues that’re inevitably going to get bigger as the cases get bigger. We’re able to watch around the globe as things are happening,” Nelson said. “One of our concerns for us is our rural communities and keeping the summer traffic from happening. They don’t have the type of health care you need to survive this.”

The loss of jobs and financial support as the epidemic continues is also a major concern for Sealaska, Nelson said. Sealaska is working to help mitigate that blow, as well as to start planning for the rebuilding phase after the virus burns out. They’re also looking to work with small business owners to apply for federal stimulus programs to make sure Southeast Alaska will get as much help as it can.

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“It cuts hard against the economy. People are losing their jobs. It’s going to put people in tough positions financially,” Nelson said. “We know that there’s going to be a recovery and rebuild phase. Economic issues that are going to continue to persist. We want to be as flexible as we can.”

Nelson also encouraged people to follow the guidelines for minimizing the spread of disease as tightly as possible, and to support those directly affected by the disease, be they treating it or stricken with it.

“We’re encouraging everyone to do their part as an individual or as an organization,” Nelson said. “Mitigate the pandemic, encourage others to help where they can. We’re doing our part here to help. Support people on the frontlines.”

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

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