Bill Bahleda stands in Resurrection Lutheran Church's new pantry. They've yet to fill it with food, only paper products, as the food demand is so high they can't keep food on their main shelf long enough to use this.
A lone package of hotdogs is all that remained in the freezer on Tuesday, Aug. 27 after 160 people visited Resurrection Lutheran Church’s food pantry on Monday and Tuesday.
Story last updated at 9/4/2013 - 6:41 pm
Your paycheck is days, maybe even a week or more out, you pull your last can of soup off the shelf for dinner. Now what?
This is a growing scenario in Juneau and food shelves and pantries are finding it difficult to keep up with demand, especially in the summer.
On Tuesday, Aug. 27, Resurrection Lutheran Church found itself left with a stack of beans, a few bags of rice on the shelves and a lonely package of hot dogs in the freezer. That's about how the shelves look on a Friday - but to have 400 pounds of food go out in the first two days of the week to 160 people in two days was eyebrow-raising.
"It's to help people patch together their food budget," said Bill Bahleda, who works with the church's food pantry.
They're open from 1-3 p.m. daily.
"The end of the month is most challenging for them, because checks and food stamps don't come out until the first of the month," he said.
Last year, the food pantry gave out 60,000 pounds of food to 6,000 customers.
"We try to supply 10 pounds per person if we can," Bahleda said.
The church simply asks that people visit the food shelf no more than once per week. People are also required to sign in and specify the number of people in the family.
"It's designed for people who are stuck," he said. "We did notice a big increase in need when Juneau had to go on diesel for a few months. People couldn't pay all of their bills and pay for food.
Five years ago they saw 250 people visit the shelf per month. Now, they see that in a week.
"The need has doubled and doubled again in the last five years," Bahleda said.
And their budget is $250 per month for food, however they always are going over. A lot of the food is purchased from the Southeast Alaska Food Bank, which serves as a distributor for many of Juneau's food shelves, pantries, homeless shelters and other service organizations. Resurrection Lutheran Church also gets food from its Food Bank Sunday (every third Sunday), donations from members, purchases from Costco and from Friends of Downtown with drop-off donations.
Bahleda said the church has prepared for the bigger volume, and just finished remodeling its entryway. The entry now includes a side room, designated as expanded food shelf room. So far they haven't been able to use it for anything more than donated paper products because they can't get enough food in to keep it on the shelves.
"There's the demand for it," he said. "The supply is just an ongoing challenge."
It's a challenge to keep enough food on the shelves for everyone who needs it. They've given out about 40,000 pounds of food this year, and Bahleda expects the end of the year to be on par with last year.
Bahleda finds Tuesday's situation unusual not just because the shortage happened at the beginning of the week, but also because school is back in session and children now are getting lunch - and in many cases breakfast - in school, so the home need, in theory, should be less.
Maria Lovishcuk, director of the Glory Hole, said they are "super low" and have almost empty shelves for their Food Box Pantry program.
"But we're making due," she said. "Our breakfast, lunch and dinner program is doing fine because of the food that's coming out of our garden and because of local fish. The food shelf program is more difficult because we can't give out fish and our garden isn't generating enough for that."
Lovischcuk said that canned goods and bulk grains are needed.
She's also seen a rise in need for food from the pantry program.
"It's been growing for the past three years at least," she said. "The demand is getting bigger, not smaller. I would guess that it is because while the prices of food and gas are rising and the price of rent is absolutely astronomical in Juneau, the wages are not really keeping up with the rising trend of everything else."
Darren Adams, manager of the Southeast Alaska Food Bank, said there is a greater need for food donations in the summer.
"What tends to happen, is people think about donating food to food banks or food pantries or homeless shelters mostly around Thanksgiving and Christmas with the feeling that, hey, no one should go hungry around Thanksgiving or Christmas," he said. "What I've noticed is that during the summer, there's still that need for food, but it isn't at the forefront of people's minds."
While the food donated during the holidays is needed, it's also needed year-round. Adams said the trend he's noticed during the past eight years is cyclical - high donations in the winter, low in the summer.
Adams said his agency supplies food to 25-30 organizations in town, with Resurrection Lutheran Church being one of the largest.
Adams agrees that the need is and has been rising. There was a time, before the recession, when 15-20 people showed up to the Southeast Alaska Food Bank on a Saturday for food assistance (organizations get their goods during the week).
"Since the economy started crashing it's progressively gotten busier and busier, to the point where it's not unusual now to see 85, 90, 100 people show up on a Saturday," Adams said. "I don't know what exactly is causing that, whether it's the cost of living here or the economy not being that great and people being off work or what's going on. The need has increased several times over."
The food bank relies on donations quite a bit. It receives food from most of the major grocery stores in town, and hosts food drives throughout the year.
Adams noticed that the more food they get in, the more they give out. There's almost never any waste. He hopes that when people have an extra few dollars, or move out of town, that they think about donating.
"We're very thankful for any and all donations," he said. "I know in a perfect world there would be more than enough food to feed everyone's needs. I tell people beggars can't be choosers. If times are tight, we can help you get through a couple of tough days."
For more information on the Southeast Alaska Food Bank visit: http://www.seakfoodbank.org/index.htm
For an up-to-date look at their current donations and weekly information friend them on Facebook (search for SoutheastAlaska FoodBank).
For more information on Resurrection Lutheran Church visit www.rlcjuneau.com.
For more information on the Glory Hole visit www.feedjuneau.org.
For a more complete list of food shelves and pantries (and other resources) in Juneau see: http://www.feedjuneau.org/storage/general/gh-resources/Resource%20Directory.pdf
Sarah Day is the editor of Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.