Want to help a struggling Alaska family keep a roof over its head? Buy dinner.
That's one real way to look at the United Way's annual Day of Caring Food Drive that begins at 11 a.m. Friday at the Sears Mall parking lot, corner of the Seward Highway and Northern Lights Boulevard.
More Southcentral Alaska families are finding it hard to keep food on the table and keep up with the rest of their bills at the same time. That reflects the simple fact that wages have not kept up with the cost of living in the Anchorage area.
Michele Brown, president of the United Way of Anchorage, pointed out that over the last 10 years, the average price of a single-family dwelling has increased 55 percent while median family income has increased 39 percent. Add to that a current rental vacancy rate of about 2 percent, and housing costs alone are enough to stretch budgets to breaking, especially for those making at or near minimum wage. But the need is not only felt by low-wage workers. Brown noted that the call for food help has worked its way up the income scale.
Put a meal -- or better yet, several days meals -- on the table for people who are strapped, and that's money they can use to cover mortgage or rent or medical bills. Keep an individual or family with the basics, and you have a long reach into making the community healthier with hope, school attendance and continued work.
That jar of peanut better or can of soup has a reach beyond the kitchen table.
What the food drive boils down to is Alaskans looking out for their neighbors. And we know how to do this well. Give Alaskans something specific to do to provide real help, and they always give abundantly.
Some go sour on giving because they see, or suspect, people take advantage of food pantries. That happens. But the wiser thought is this -- for every freeloader who milks the system, there are dozens more families and children and older folks who will get enough to eat tonight because we refuse to let them go hungry. There are families and individuals working to make ends meet for whom several days' groceries fortifies their fighting chance to make ends meet, and eventually to prosper. That's good for all of us.
And maybe most of all, when we share our daily bread, we're saying that no one here need go hungry, especially the youngest and the oldest.
Cans and boxes of nonperishable food items are welcome Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (There's a list of most needed items at liveunitedanchorage.org.) Cash, check and credit card donations also are welcome and will be used by the Food Bank of Alaska for bulk-rate purchases and distribution to pantries and meal sites.
In 2011 residents gave 189,000 pounds of food. There is no official goal for 2012. But it would be fine to break 200,000 pounds. That's 100 tons. Let's set the table.