Saturday, May 25, 2013
One In Seven Alaskans Relies On Food Stamps
More than 92,000 are signed up to receive the benefits, but agencies say the need is growing while their resources are not
ANCHORAGE—For 26-year-old Jason Clarke, paying for food is not easy.
Clarke struggles to get by and depends on food pantries like Lutheran Social Services of Alaska for basic meals.
“I'm on unemployment right now,” Clarke said. “Having this helpful food—that gets me by every month. It’s a great burden off my chest.”
Clarke isn’t alone.
More than 92,000 Alaskans are signed up to receive food stamps—assistance that lasts an average of two-and-a-half weeks.
“It’s been increasing dramatically in the last few years,” said Ron Kreher, director of the state’s Division of Public Assistance, of the need. “The case load itself has gone up 14 percent over this time last year.”
But the supplements don’t fully support the growing needs of a household.
“Households that are feeling the pinch near the end of the month would have to rely on other sources,” said Kreher.
Food pantries are seeing more people like Clarke walk through their doors every day. But they can only come once a month, and supplies are dwindling.
“They are not just coming to one food pantry,” said Alan Budahl, executive director for Lutheran Social Services of Alaska. “I know they are going to more than one, to help get by for the month.”
Social workers say food pantry clients are members of the community.
“This means that hungry folks are not ‘them’; they are ‘us’,” said Susannah Morgan, the executive director of the Food Bank of Alaska. “They get food stamps and then they go to Lutheran Social Services and then for the last few days they end up at Bean’s Cafe until food stamps come in again. That's just a continuum.”
The never-ending cycle of hunger could ensnare any family.
“It’s hard to wake up every morning and think, ‘OK, we are not going to be able to do everything that is needed,” said Morgan.
The Food Bank of Alaska distributes 6.5 million pounds of food a year all over the state.
But Morgan it would take at least 15 million pounds to truly meet the need.
Some food stamps are only worth $19, which doesn’t buy too many groceries.
Morgan says we can all make a difference by “doing what's in your heart to help out,” whether it’s volunteering, donating, talking to elected officials about the state’s hunger problem or holding a food drive.
Morgan said every donated dollar buys five pounds of food.