Kaye Fariday helps a boy /name??// from Fireweed Academy bag food at the Homer Food Pantry on Sept. 26 at Homer United Methodist Church.

Kaye Fariday helps a boy /name??// from Fireweed Academy bag food at the Homer Food Pantry on Sept. 26 at Homer United Methodist Church.

Homer Food Pantry use increasing

The Homer Community Food Pantry experienced a 115 percent increase in people seeking food assistance between 2013 and 2015.

Though the food pantry’s customers have not reached the highs seen in the years following the 2008 recession, a significant spike started in 2014 and continues to climb. The food pantry’s record year for visitors was 2009, when it provided for 38,723 adults and children.

The food pantry keeps track of the number of people who visit each week, but does not keep records of unique visits as the service is based on confidentiality. For example, a person who visits the food pantry six times in a year would be counted as six visits in the records.

The food pantry numbers dipped low in 2013, when it served 9,850 adults and children. The number rose to 17,345 adults and children in 2014 and 21,212 in 2015. Homer Community Food Pantry director Diana Jeska expects the 2016 numbers, which will be calculated at the end of the year, to be even higher.

Jeska said that the number of people seeking help at the food pantry each week have not slowed down, even as the end of the summer season has lowered the population in the Homer area. She also is seeing new faces of families who have recently come to Homer and need assistance.

However, the average monthly caseloads for public assistance in southern Kenai Peninsula communities — Anchor Point, Fritz Creek, Halibut Cove, Homer, Nanwalek, Nikolaevsk, Ninilchik, Port Graham and Seldovia — have remained steady or are in decline. Between 2011 and 2013, the average caseloads for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rose from 592 to 694, but has since steadily dropped down to 606. Caseloads for Alaska Temporary Assistance Program (ATAP) and Alaska Public Assistance (APA) have stayed relatively the same over the last five years. ATAP caseload averages fluctuate between the high 40s and low 60s, and APA caseloads have stayed in the mid-400s, give or take 20 cases, according to Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Division of Public Assistance Caseload and Benefit History report for July 2006-June 2016.

There are many households that receive too much monthly income to receive SNAP benefits, but still find it difficult to meet their food needs, said Alaska Public Assistance Program Officer Christina Cross. The monthly gross, or before taxes, income limit for a household of two people is $2,169. A household that grosses more than the income limit may still make less than they need to make ends meet after taxes.

“If that household receives $2,200 monthly gross income, they will not be eligible for SNAP benefits,” Cross said. “This same household may only net $1,800 monthly income but be responsible for $1,700 in monthly expenses such as rent, utilities, car payment, car insurance, etc. This may leave the household in a situation where all of their monthly food needs are not met without assistance from the food pantry.”

Households eligible for public assistance also might not apply and instead use the food pantry to supplement their income.

“Although we attempt to encourage households to take advantage of our programs when they are eligible, there may be households that choose not to apply,” Cross said. “Some people still find a stigma in applying for public assistance benefits.”

The pantry never sees fewer than 100 families each week, and they aren’t necessarily the same families each week, Jeska said.

“People have a concept that if you go to the pantry, you go every week. But not everyone uses it every week,” Jeska said.

The food pantry depends on donations from both individuals and businesses in the community. Grocery stores Safeway and Save-U-More donate products including milk, yogurt, doughnuts, breads and produce, Jeska said. However, the pantry never has enough milk to fulfill demand. Local farmers also bring donations to the pantry in the summer months as various crops are harvested.

“It’s a blessing to have vegetables from June to September,” Jeska said.

Though the pantry will see an increase in donations in the upcoming holiday months, throughout the year the pantry buys canned foods and other necessary items when its donated supplies run low. Money provided by donations, primarily from the Homer Foundation Community Chest, help supplement those supplies.

Other regular donations are received from the Homer Senior Center, K Bay Caffe, Duncan House Diner , The Bagel Shop and the Homer Theatre — everything from soup and spaghetti sauce to eggs and popcorn.

“We really do have a giving community,” Jeska said. “It is most encouraging. People give in abundance. It makes you feel like they, like they got your back.”

The food pantry will have its annual Empty Bowls fundraiser on Nov. 4, where community members can buy bowls made by local artisans in the Homer community filled with soup.

Anna Frost can be reached at anna.frost@homernews.com.

More in News

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Members of the Alaska House of Representatives on Saturday rejected the budget bill passed by the Senate earlier in the week. The bill will now go to a bicameral committee for negotiations, but the end of the legislative session is Wednesday.
House votes down Senate’s budget as end of session nears

State budget now goes to negotiating committee

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Candidate for Alaska’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives Tara Sweeney, a Republican, was in Juneau on Monday and sat down with the Empire for an interview. Sweeney said the three main pillars of her campaign are the economy, jobs and healthy communities.
Sweeney cites experience in run for Congress

GOP candidate touts her history of government-related work

One tree stands in front of the Kenai Post Office on Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai taking down hazard beetle trees

The city hopes to leverage grant funds for most of the work

Former Alaska governor and current congressional hopeful Sarah Palin speaks with attendees at a meet-and-greet event outside of Ginger’s Restaurant on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Palin brings congressional bid to Soldotna

The former governor took time Saturday to sign autographs and take pictures with attendees

In this October 2019 photo, Zac Watt, beertender for Forbidden Peak Brewery, pours a beer during the grand opening for the Auke Bay business in October 2019. On Sunday, the Alaska House of Representatives OK’d a major update to the state’s alcohol laws. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Graphic by Ashlyn O'Hara
Borough, school district finalizing $65M bond package

Efforts to fund maintenance and repairs at school district facilities have been years in the making

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Members of the House Majority Coalition spent most of Friday, May 13, 2022, in caucus meetings at the Alaska State Capitol, discussing how to proceed with a large budget bill some have called irresponsible. With a thin majority in the House of Representatives, there’s a possibility the budget could pass.
State budget work stretches into weekend

Sessions have been delayed and canceled since Wednesday

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Alaskans for Better Government members La quen náay Liz Medicine Crow, Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson and ‘Wáahlaal Gidáak Barbara Blake embrace on the floor of the Alaska State Senate following the passage of House Bill 123, a bill to formally recognize the state’s 229 federally recognized tribes.
Tribal recognition bill clears Senate, nears finish line

Senators say recognition of tribes was overdue

The Alaska Division of Forestry’s White Mountain crew responds to a fire burning near Milepost 46.5 of the Sterling Highway on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, near Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Cooper Landing Emergency Services)
Officials encourage residents to firewise homes

The central peninsula has already had its first reported fires of the season

Most Read