Would you consider a job where the work never ends?
Week in and week out the demands are consistent without rest or reprieve. When that consistency wavers, it is because demand has increased. There are no checkpoints; there is no sense of completion. And get this: there isn’t even a paycheck.
Such is the life of Chugiak-Eagle River Food Pantry director Lynn Kile.
For the past three years, Kile has overseen the distribution of 20,000 pounds of food per month to local families in need, adding up to 245,000 pounds so far in 2017 alone.
This is certainly not a simple task. The doors to the food pantry are open three times per week, plus a distribution day on Saturdays, but that is just a minor part of the work. Logistical planning takes place behind the scenes and includes collaboration with local grocery stores, schools and churches, and the Alaska Food Bank. In addition, there is food pickup, sorting, organizing and shelving.
Financial tasks are involved as well, even for a free, 100% volunteer-run service. Donations are collected – and very much needed – to buy food from the Alaska Food Bank when Chugiak-Eagle River supply comes up short of matching demand.
Citing the logistics of running the food pantry, as well as the physical task of shelving hundreds of pounds of food, long-time manager Betty Jo Worthington comments, “It’s hard work.” Her comment very likely downplays the arduousness of the work she does there.
So why do Kile and Worthington come back to this position every day?
“We’re in the business to help people,” he says.
And help people they do. To qualify as a recipient of food pantry goods, community members must live between Hiland Drive and Peters Creek. An ID, recent bill with physical address, verification of income, and proof of currently receiving aid in an assistance program are required.
Recipients are truly in need.
An average of 650 local people benefit from the food bank each week, many of them children and seniors. Without the Food Pantry, these community members would go hungry.
Of course, this service is a community effort. There are many regular and intermittent volunteers who make this important task happen. From families to seniors to high school students, the community comes together to help the rest of the community.
For those who want to help, there are many options. Calling the Food Pantry during their business hours will yield information about when volunteers are most needed.
Community members with a bit more time on their hands may be interested in more involved positions. The Food Pantry is currently seeking to fill Manager and Assistant Manager openings soon. While these are, again, volunteer positions, the payment is the satisfaction of a job well done and leaving a mark on the community by bettering the lives of others.
If donating your hours to the food pantry is not possible, food donations are equally as important.
Some of the most needed items include tomato items such as sauce, crackers, cereal and canned fruits.
Others that are needed are canned soups, meats and vegetables, ramen noodles, canned and dry beans and rice. Fresh milk can be refrigerated there, but it must not be past the expiration date.
There are many miscellaneous items needed as well. Zip-top bags, condiments, cake mix and frosting, the list goes on. What non-perishable items are essential in your kitchen? The food pantry needs it.
Local schools, churches and business are often hosting food drives where these items are collected.
Additionally, small cash donations are collected at local businesses, including the Shell station, AIH and Pizza Man.
“A few dollars from one person [might seem like it] doesn’t make a very big difference,” says Kile, “but when everyone helps, it goes a long way.”
The work flow may never take a break, but that doesn’t mean the tasks must be repetitive or robotic. Kile is always on the look out for new ideas to improve the services that the Food Pantry offers.
One particularly vexing issue in need of innovative problem solving is that of food quality. An unfortunate fact of our current food economy is that the most affordable foods are the least healthy. Fred Meyer, Carrs and Walmart all donate fresh produce, but the majority of available foods are still boxed and processed.
The topic of food quality shouldn’t be viewed as the polarized options of either organic vegetables or starvation. A spectrum of choices lie between those two extremes and community efforts can be made to push the needle towards the more nutritious end.
The Presbyterian Church, where the Food Pantry is housed, grows a garden in the summer, and they plan to expand their growing capabilities in 2018. Initiatives such as this are steps in the right direction for providing families in need with the high-quality foods they deserve. While this is a hard problem without simple answers, solutions most certainly lie within our local community.
The Chugiak-Eagle River Food Pantry is open Mondays and Fridays 10:00 am – 1:00 pm and Tuesdays 5:30 pm-7:30 pm.
Sara Kennedy is a special education teacher in the Anchorage School District. She likes to swim, bike and run around Alaska, and camp and fish with her family. To reach Sara, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.