This photo shows Helping Hands Food Bank as it faces potential closure due to a decline in financial assistance and donations. (Courtesy Photo / Helping Hands Food Bank)

This photo shows Helping Hands Food Bank as it faces potential closure due to a decline in financial assistance and donations. (Courtesy Photo / Helping Hands Food Bank)

They’re banking on community support

Local food banks say donations needed now more than ever.

With food prices still on the rise and no end in sight, food banks all across Juneau are in need of donations now more than ever.

Along with rising prices, the number of people seeking aid from food banks is at an all-time high after the pandemic, making it even more difficult to meet demands, said local food bank operators. Yearly budgets aren’t able to purchase as much food and supplies as previous years, leaving fewer options available for those in need. Along with budget concerns, the overall number of individual donations most food banks have become reliant upon are dramatically down, as well, operators said.

Southeast Alaska Food Bank Manager Chris Schapp said prior to COVID-19 they were serving roughly 60 to 90 people every week but recently that number has risen to an average between 230 and 275 and as a small staff already operating on a razor thin budget, it’s become increasingly harder to provide the necessary assistance. Southeast Alaska Food Bank just recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and these current challenges are among some of the greatest the food bank has ever faced.

“I have a driver that goes out and collects donations from all of the local stores that donate to us every day, but those numbers have dramatically decreased. I’d say especially over the last three or four months, so we’re not getting as many donations as we used to. As far as personal donations from people, I’d say the monetary donations have dropped somewhat, I don’t think they’re as high as they were this time last year,” Schapp said. “It’s hard for us because we budget throughout the course of the year to make purchases from the stores to offset what we don’t get in donations to help keep the shelves well stocked. So, three years ago when we were spending $5,000 on a store purchase, we’d get four and half pallets of food. Now we’re spending that same amount or more and maybe getting two and a half pallets of food.”

Another well-established Juneau food bank is Helping Hands, which has been proudly serving local communities for decades, but as Director Karen Fortwengler indicated, if financial assistance isn’t somehow provided and soon, they’ll be forced to consider closing their doors for good.

“We’re doing the best we can. We pick up the donations from the stores that we’re allowed, and we’re open two days a week frankly, like I said, we’re doing the best we can at this point. We’re serving the best we can and as many people as we get through the door. To be truthful, if we don’t get some kind of funding by the end of this year, then we will have to close down our food bank, which would be unfortunate because we’ve been in the city for 39 years,” Fortwengler said.

If anyone is interested in lending a hand or getting involved on any level, there are a number of ways to do so through Southeast Alaska Food Bank’s website at http://www.sealaskafoodbank.org/donate/, including monetary donations, volunteering, or donating food at their warehouse at 10020 Crazy Horse Drive. You can also reach out through their Facebook page.

“We’ve got a good number of board members right now, but we’re always looking for more people to join the board, especially if they have any experience in civic or social issues and want to help out the community, it’s a great way to give back. Also, if there’s anyone in the public that’s looking to volunteer, feel free to give us a call and we can let them know what opportunities we have available, as well,” Schapp added.

Helping Hands also offers multiple ways to get involved and accept donations by visiting their Facebook page or by visiting the warehouse on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 6590 Glacier Highway. They also accept donations at their Venmo at @HelpingHands-FoodBank or you can contact them directly at (907)957-6632.

“We just need financial help, plain and simple. We need companies that would like to make donations, monetary donations right now, is what we really need. I’d really to see if we could come up with some big corporations to donate to keep us open,” Fortwengler said.

Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at jonson.kuhn@juneauempire.com.

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