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Harvesting Alaska: Summer produce donations needed at Food Bank of Alaska

By Gina Romero 3:21 PM August 11, 2016
ANCHORAGE –

Donations at Food Bank of Alaska are sparse. Entire shelves in the dry pantry are bare. Produce in cold storage is running low.

“We’re way down. The storage area is usually full,” said Cara Durr, director of public engagement at the food bank.

Produce donations come from various sources including farms, grocery stores and individual gardeners. Summer is typically slower when it comes to overall giving, Durr said.

strawberries-at-mobile-food-pantry

The food bank partly relies on the Plant a Row for the Hungry program for fresh produce and received almost 1,000 pounds of produce last year. However, Durr said this year donations are down.

“It’s been an interesting summer I think for gardeners. It was really hot for a while, so a lot of people said some of their lettuces shot up and then it’s been kind of rainy so that’s kind of maybe molded some of the zucchinis,” she said. “We’re hoping that as we go into the fall that donations pick up.”

Produce is often the first thing to go when it comes to decisions on how to spend money. Thirty-four percent of mobile pantry users say they almost never or very rarely are able to afford produce, Durr said.

Yet, fresh food is one of the most requested items in Anchorage, according to a hunger study requested by the food bank.

“These produce donations for low-income people are really important,” she said. “It’s a real treat for them and they know it’s an important part of a healthy diet.”

A pallet with greens, beets and strawberries were available to people at a recent food bank distribution. The mobile pantry at Lutheran Church of Hope on Northern Lights Boulevard is one of eight locations throughout Anchorage. The goal is to move fresh items quickly before they go bad.

Megan Shanders waited for more than an hour to get her weekly ration that helps feed her two children, ages 4 and 17. She has been coming to the food distribution for almost a year. Shanders said the delivery helps her to pay bills on time because she doesn’t have to worry about spending money on food. She was particularly excited about a recent delivery of large zucchinis from the Point MacKenzie Correctional Farm.

“We just made zucchini bread, she said. “They are so good.”

The weekly food delivery at the Lutheran Church has anywhere from 135 to 180 people, according to Ryan Chernikoff, food distribution manager for Lutheran Social Services of Alaska. They see higher numbers toward the end of the month, he said.

beets-at-mobile-food-pantry

As for the overall program, Cara Durr said they collect about 5 million pounds of food a year and about 1.5 million of that is produce. Major grocery stores, Tote and Charlie’s Produce donate large quantities of produce year-round. Still, she said all contributions are important.

“We appreciate donations. Summer is always a low time and it can be a tough time for families,” she said.

The Food Bank of Alaska accepts dry goods and produce donations at their location on Spar Avenue in Anchorage. Additionally, Alaska Mill Feed & Garden Center accepts Plant a Row donations. Those outside of Anchorage can call 2-1-1 to find out if there is a partnering food pantry in their community.

Harvesting Alaska is a featured series exploring all the ways Alaskans live off the land — from growing and foraging to fishing and crafting. We hope you’ll join us on our journey and share how you harvest Alaska. Share your recipes and ideas for upcoming articles.

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