After searching for several months, the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank has a new set of wheels to help them distribute food around the peninsula thanks to several timely donations from businesses and community members.
“I cannot say enough how thankful I am — how thankful we are — to the community,” Food Bank Executive Director Greg Meyer told the Clarion on Saturday. “I am in awe and overrun with gratitude. It’s one of those things where ‘thank you’ just doesn’t cut it.”
Their new vehicle is a 2012 refrigerated box truck that they acquired last week. Meyer said getting truck here took a few small miracles.
Dave and Linda Hutchings, owners of Hutchings Auto Group in Soldotna, located the truck in Seattle and got someone to drive it to the port in Tacoma, Washington. From there, the Tote Maritime company put the truck on the next barge up to Alaska and delivered it at no charge — saving the Food Bank thousands in shipping costs.
The truck still cost a little over $50,000 to acquire. The funds were raised from individuals in the community as well as large donations from a few organizations.
Just under $15,000 came from individual donations, Meyer said. Another $2,500 was donated by the Homer Foundation, and the Marathon Petroleum Foundation provided $25,000. The donation that put them over the top was a $17,000 gift from Feeding America, which recently received a $100 million donation from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
The food bank’s original delivery truck broke down in February, and Meyer said that they’ve been using a loaner truck from the Alaska Food Bank in the meantime. It’s gotten the job done, Meyer said, but it still limited their ability to pick up food during the week.
While the food bank offers meals and commodities at their location on Kalifornsky Beach Road, they also make regular deliveries to smaller food pantries around the peninsula from Homer to Nikiski. The truck is also used to pick up the bulk donations from local grocery stores and for the occasional trip to Anchorage to purchase food from the Alaska Food Bank.
For the past two months, Meyer and food bank staff have used the loaner truck to make deliveries while a smaller truck was used to pick up extra food when needed.
In order to keep up with the increased demand in both meals and commodities, the food bank has started making a trip to Anchorage every Wednesday to get additional food from the Alaska Food Bank. Meyer said that they are able to acquire food cheaply this way, but until recently they only had a small truck available and could only get about four pallets of food per trip.
With the new truck, they’ll now be able to haul 11 pallets, which Meyer said is between 20,000 and 25,000 pounds of food. The new truck also has the capability of adjusting to the height of the loading dock in Anchorage, making it much easier and safer to move the food palettes. The weekly trips to Anchorage were much less frequent before the pandemic, Meyer said, so the newer, bigger truck couldn’t have come at a better time.
The past two months have also seen a large increase in demand for the food bank’s services, as many Alaskans have lost their jobs and are facing economic hardship in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meyer said that they have served an average of 100 people every day for their daily meal program, and last Friday they served 134 people. Those numbers are more than double what they normally see, Meyer said, and have remained steady since the beginning of the outbreak.
The food bank also recently started offering weekly disaster relief food kits for families in need. Once per week, families have been able to pick up a box of staples and shelf-stable items, such as peanut butter, macaroni and other nonperishable items. This program is separate from the commodities that the food bank provides to low-income families and seniors. Meyer said that the food bank has provided at least 400 boxes of food for disaster relief in the two months that the program has been offered.
Meyer said that the disaster relief program ran through all of April and is continuing through May, but he has not yet heard if the program will continue into June.
The food bank is still offering their daily meal services to go, and Meyer said that they are working toward opening their dining area in a way that is in line with the health guidelines issued by the state for reopening safely.
Because of the increased need for sanitizing and social distancing, single-serve, easy-to-prepare items are in high demand. Meyer said that anyone who would like to donate to the food bank should consider things like pudding cups, ramen, soup cups, small chip bags and other similar items.
“This has been a very interesting journey so far,” Meyer said. “But we’ve managed to stay healthy and haven’t missed a day of meals since this all started.”
The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. They will be closed for Memorial Day. Call 907-262-3111 for more information or to make a donation.