Annually for the past nine years, needy families have been able to fill their family's Thanksgiving table, courtesy of the Food Bank of Alaska and the local faith community. Anyone can show up, no financial questions asked, and leave with a shopping cart full of veggies, stuffing, turkey, and even a pumpkin pie -- enough to feed an entire family.
And come they did on Monday. Mountain View Recreation Center, the largest of eight locations in Anchorage and Eagle River that handed out food, distributed almost 1,800 meals. Food Bank officials estimated that the program will allow 9,525 needy families in Anchorage and the Mat-Su to have a full Thanksgiving dinner table.
That's an 11 percent increase in Anchorage and Eagle River compared to last year -- and a 45 percent increase in Mat-Su, partially due to the two new distribution sites there.
"Thanksgiving Blessing is my baby," said Susan Morgan, the outgoing executive director of Food Bank of Alaska. "Carol Warren, former executive director of Lutheran Social Services, and I dreamed up the idea of a collaborative, community-wide, faith-based Thanksgiving project with two main goals:
• Providing groceries for a Thanksgiving meal in a manner that promotes dignity and choice;
• Treating all of our neighbors, volunteers and clients alike -- as loved and valued children of God.
"Nine years later, Thanksgiving Blessing continues to exceed my wildest dreams," Morgan said. This will be her last Thanksgiving Blessing. Morgan is leaving Food Bank of Alaska to be CEO of the Oregon Food Bank.
Carrie Varnell and her daughter Esther Varnell, age 6, both volunteered Monday.
"Our family believes that when someone is in need, we should help them if we can," Carrie Varnell said. "This is a very simple way to do that. We may just be handing someone a bag of potatoes with a smile, but you never know what an impact it may have on their lives. We want our kids to learn how valuable and precious each person's life is.
"When we left there last night, (Esther) had a big smile on her face. She had so much fun helping hand out dinners to families. She's already looking forward to next year."
The next large-scale distribution comes on Dec. 22, when families not only can receive food but holiday gifts as well. For information, contact the Food Bank of Alaska.