September is Hunger Action Month, and folks around the peninsula have been doing their part to eliminate empty plates and empty stomachs.
Hunger Action Month is a nationwide initiative started by Feeding America with the goal of raising awareness about how people can do their part to address the hunger crisis in America. More than 37 million people in the United States — including over 11 million children — are struggling with hunger or food insecurity, according to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap 2019 study. That comes out to about 1 in every 8 American.
On the peninsula, the primary advocate in addressing food insecurity is the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. Executive Director Greg Meyer said that the Food Bank works with 72 different agencies from Homer to Seward to Nikiski delivering food to those who struggle to acquire it otherwise.
Meyer said that for Hunger Action Month, the food bank has encouraged various businesses and organizations to hold food drives and has tied in educational opportunities about eating healthy and reducing waste.
“The food drives are to show people that every little bit helps,” Meyer said. “And we’ve been trying to encourage eating locally and growing locally while eliminating waste. We can do a lot by reducing the amount of food waste we produce every day.”
The food bank accepts donations of both food items and cash year-round, because as Meyer puts it, “Hunger doesn’t have a season.”
Gunnar Peters has been volunteering for the past couple years with his dad Darren Thayer and said that he enjoys being able to help out his community. Volunteering at the food bank has also helped him develop his social skills, which he said he sometimes struggles with due to his autism.
“I’ve made a lot of friends here, and it feels good to help out,” Peters said.
Meyer said that this month, food drives have taken place or will be happening at businesses like Marathon Petroleum, Alaska USA Credit Union, Remax Realty and Dry Bones Coffee.
The Soldotna Library held a food drive last week, but theirs came with a slight twist. The library’s Food for Fines program gave residents the opportunity to bring in nonperishable food items and have their library fines forgiven in exchange: each item counted as a $1 credit toward the reduction of their existing Soldotna Library Fine.
Assistant City Librarian Katja Wolfe said that this is the second year that the library has done Food for Fines during Hunger Action Month, with the drive also taking place in April during National Libraries Week.
People often donate above and beyond what would cover their library fines, Wolfe said, and last September the library collected 931 pounds of food.
“Sometimes people feel embarrassed to come to the library if they have fines, like they’re going to get punished or something, but with Food for Fines I think they feel more inclined to come in,” librarian Kim McMilin said.
Meanwhile at Skyview Middle School, the Panther Student Council organized a snack food drive with the help of their council adviser and teacher, Sheila-Margaret Pothast.
Pothast said that the idea came about organically during a “Focus On Learning” session that took place on Sept. 11 and was centered around how kids can be of service to their community.
“The impetus was that 9/11 has become a day of service, a day for reaching out, and so this seemed like a good way to do that,” Pothast said.
The snack drive was on focused food that was ready-to-eat — beef jerky, protein bars, pudding and fruit cups to name a few — rather than things that needed to be cooked. Eighth grader Derrick Jones said that they chose this approach because not everyone has the option to cook.
“Not everybody has somewhere to live, and they don’t necessarily have a microwave or stove to heat things up in,” Jones said. “And during the summer they can’t really keep their food cold.”
Eighth grader Avery Ciufo said that she and the other council members made and put up posters around the school and got the word out in the school bulletins in order to raise awareness about their project.
The drive ran from Sept. 12 to Sept. 20, and Pothast reported that 753 items were collected over the course of the week.
Jones and Ciufo suggested extending the duration of the drive next year while also encouraging the entire community to donate — rather than just students and parents. Pothast thought it would be a good idea to promote the drive during sporting events and other after-school activities.
Donations to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank can be dropped off between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The food bank is also always on the lookout for more volunteers, and anyone interested can call donor relations specialist Randi Smith at 907-262-3111.