Story last updated at 8/27/2009 - 1:04 pm
JUNEAU - For Karen Fortwengler, feeding the hungry runs in the family. Fortwengler is the director of Helping Hands, a food bank founded by her mother, Betty Kaplor, in 1983.
"She saw a need, she didn't have a place, so she opened up her garage," Fortwengler said. "It started out small. It was just my mom. People saw what she was doing and said, 'How can we help out?'"
There are now about 20 committed volunteers working with Helping Hands, Fortwengler said. The organization, which is a member of United Way, serves about 400 people every week. Anyone in need of food can come to the warehouse during open hours to pick up food. There are no forms to fill out, and no questions asked.
"We're open to anybody," Fortwengler said. "If they walk up to our door and say, 'We're in need,' we say, "Okay, come on in.'"
The shelves of the Helping Hands warehouse are filled with donations from grocery stores (including perishable foods that would otherwise be destined for the trash) and individuals. Kaplor continues to pick up food from grocery stores herself most days.
Helping Hands also puts together Thanksgiving and Christmas bags. Fortwengler estimated the organization packs 200 bags during each holiday.
Fortwengler said the economic downturn has resulted in more people coming in, and donations have also bit a bit down.
For people wondering what to donate, she recommends nonperishables: "Canned foods are good always." Most of the perishables come directly from grocery stores.
Although Fortwengler has taken over the position of director of Helping Hands from her mother, she says her mother is still incredibly active with the organization.
"She's still the backbone. Without my mom, there'd be no Helping Hands," Fortwengler said. "She works a full time job and still finds time."
And although it takes a lot of time, Fortwengler said she can't see herself not being involved.
"My mom has been (my) inspiration throughout this whole thing," Fortwengler said. "I look forward to Tuesdays and Fridays and seeing the people who come in. It makes me feel good that we're around and helping them."
The annual Helping Hands dinner and auction fundraiser is Friday, Aug. 29 at the Valley Chapel at 9741 Mendenhall Loop Road. Dinner begins at 5 p.m., and the auction starts at 6 p.m. A $10 donation is requested.
Fortwengler said they hope to raise enough money to buy a generator to generate their own power during future fundraisers.
Betty Kaplor will be cooking all the food. Local businesses and individuals have donated dozens of auction items, including whale baleen, zipline tours, and trips to Haines, Skagway and Elfin Cove.
The fundraiser is "a big old feast and a fun time," Fortwengler said.
Helping Hands is open Tuesdays and Fridays from 5:30 to 7 p.m., and is located at the Switzer Village Recreation Hall at 6590 Glacier Highway. Helping Hands asks for a $1 donation from each person picking up food to help pay for rent and electricity, but will not turn away anyone unable to pay.
To make a contribution, call 209-2520 or mail donations to P.O. Box 33721, Juneau, AK 99803.
Learn more about Helping Hands at http://home.onemain.com/~helpinghandsjuneau.