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Alaska Life

Looking for routine amid pandemic isolation, this Anchorage woman bakes and delivers bread

Debbie Jaso, right, delivered whole wheat honey bread with cranberries that she baked for her friend Linda Vollertsen on Tuesday, June 16, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Debbie Jaso spent her working years serving others as a community service worker, a caterer, a patient navigator for people with cancer.

The 66-year-old resident of South Anchorage’s Bayshore neighborhood retired last year.

Jaso is the kind of person who stays busy. She gets satisfaction out of helping people. She’d already signed up as a hospital volunteer.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit Alaska in March, and her access to the outside world vanished.

Jaso and her husband, 75, are in a demographic considered more at-risk for serious illness from the virus. They’ve got a grandson but can’t babysit him because their daughter is in the medical field and needs to be careful about household exposure.

Jaso avoids grocery stores and other outings.

She found it hard to not do ... something.

“There was a big hole in my life and I wanted a routine,” Jaso said. “And I wanted to get out because I’ve been isolated.”

So, with a friend, she split a special order of 100 pounds of hard-to-find flour from a wholesale distributor. Her daughter ordered a bunch of yeast online.

Jaso started baking bread for 30 to 40 people.

Every week, she delivers fresh-baked loaves for friends, acquaintances and neighbors. She drives her gray Toyota RAV4 SUV to her delivery locations, deposits the bread and sometimes stops for socially distant conversations.

Then she takes photographs -- provided her subjects are OK with that -- and adds them to a Facebook page depicting the faces of Anchorage during this strange time.

Jaso has always loved to bake. She put her culinary skills to work at the Anchorage Museum, where she ran the catering program.

She also gravitated toward jobs that involved public service: counseling; parenting resources; helping people with disabilities find jobs. She worked for the American Cancer Society as a patient navigator at the Providence Cancer Center.

Her last position before retiring last year was at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, the women’s prison in Eagle River, where she taught substance abuse classes and was involved in a monitoring program for inmates with a history of heroin addiction.

Debbie Jaso delivered whole wheat honey bread with cranberries that she baked for her friend Linda Vollertsen on Tuesday, June 16, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Jaso grew up in Sitka and began baking after college. She uses a pan that bakes four loaves at a time. She blends whole-wheat and white flour, honey, olive oil -- “I never follow a recipe” -- and sometimes throws in some cranberries.

She finds the task fun and uplifting. She expects nothing in return but sometimes gets rewarded. A friend made bread for her and brought a soup-making package.

Jaso plans to keep her routine going.

“Everything’s better with bread and butter,” she said.

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