Community food resources feel the strain during COVID-19 pandemic

Published: Apr. 13, 2020 at 6:42 PM AKDT
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According to the Food Bank of Alaska, one in seven people faced hunger statewide, before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted mandatory closures for all nonessential businesses and workplaces. Food bank communications director Jenny DiGrappa estimates the loss of jobs and wages has prompted a 75% increase in demand for food assistance in Alaska.

"We have seen huge increases every single day - every single week," she said. "We could be looking at an additional 100,000 Alaskans who are needing for resources."

The Food Bank of Alaska partners with 150 other groups to carryout statewide distributions. One of those partners is Catholic Social Service's St. Francis House Food Pantry, the largest food pantry in Anchorage. Staff and volunteers there have also seen a big spike in request for food. As a result - the client choice pantry has transitioned to a fast track, quick pick-up model, limiting human contact during the process.

"Our client base has increased by about 30% since March 16," Pantry Director Bronwen Nicholls said. "Luckily, the food supply has been very steady from the food bank so that has been a blessing. We're doing as best we can to get people food."

With more people in line, clients might not get as much food as they have in the past, and longer lines are also a factor. Billy Awalin told KTUU that the pandemic has been frustrating.

"It takes longer time ... We all are kind of scared," he said.

Awalin normally works as a buser on base at JBER, but right now his job status is uncertain. He says he is thankful to still be able to get food when he needs it.

"Praise the lord," he said. "It's a hard thing to do for the churches these days."

Both the Food Bank of Alaska and St. Francis House Pantry noted that the panic buying mentality to came with the arrival of COVID-19 hampers their operations, to an extent. If grocery stores have less surplus to donate, then the organizations must purchase food to supplement, which hurts prevents them from being able to distribute food at the lowest cost possible to those in need.

If you or someone you know is facing hunger as a result of COVID-19, you can find a list of the food distribution sites and programs near you,