September is Hunger Action Month. There are currently 90,000 Alaskans who are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
The charitable anti-hunger network in Alaska is vast and diverse. More than 400 organizations across Alaska operate anti-hunger programs including food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, afterschool and summer youth programs, senior centers, and so on. From Ketchikan to Kotzebue and Atka to Barrow, tribes, nonprofits and congregations are supporting food assistance programs for their neighbors. Most charitable food programs keep paperwork requirements to the absolute minimum, making it easy for Alaskans to access food assistance.
Where do these programs get food?
- First and foremost, the food comes from their local communities, through donations by local food stores and food drives.
- These programs are supported by five food banks in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Kodiak and Soldotna. Food banks are the “wholesale” link in the chain, collecting food by the truckload and distributing this food to anti-hunger programs.
- Federal commodity programs support programs across the state by providing healthy foods purchased by USDA. These programs include The Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Commodity Supplemental Food Assistance Program; food banks handle and distribute these commodities to food pantries and soup kitchens. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium manages the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, providing USDA food to rural tribal villages.
- Federal child nutrition programs provide reimbursements for meals and snacks to children afterschool or during the summer.
- When all else fails, food assistance programs that can afford it supplement their food supplies by buying food.
The charitable food assistance is vitally important and patently necessary – but it is also neither wide enough or strong enough. More than 100 communities throughout the state have no food assistance programs and dozens of communities only have food assistance seasonally or for specific clients (such as summer programs for kids). And most food pantries operate on a fragile shoe-string; 56 percent of all food pantries are run solely by volunteers and another 26 percent have only one staff member.
In the next post, I will highlight how the food stamp program works in Alaska.