Food and Drink

Program that pays Anchorage restaurants to prepare food for people in need resumes

The Municipality of Anchorage and two other organizations will resume a program that earlier this year provided $1.7 million to help struggling restaurants prepare meals for nonprofit groups assisting needy residents.

This time, the Restaurant and Hunger Relief program will spend $2.4 million in pandemic relief funds from the American Rescue Plan so restaurants can make meals for elders, children and the homeless, organizers said at an event at the Moose A’La Mode restaurant on Wednesday.

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson said he supports the program because it will help small businesses.

“Few sectors of the economy were hit harder by COVID-19 than our restaurant community, and I’m honored to be able to continue a program to help these businesses rebound and regain economic stability after shutdowns and major restrictions,” he said at the event.

The United Way of Anchorage worked with the municipality and Alaska Hospitality Retailers, a trade group, to launch the program for six months in November last year.

Nearly 60 restaurants dished up about 110,000 meals across Anchorage, benefiting the clients of nonprofit organizations. The effort provided work for close to 900 people, including about 600 that would not otherwise have had jobs, organizers said.

At the event, Clark Halvorson with United Way called the program a “win, win, win.” It provided a boost for restaurants and families in need, as well as the nonprofit organizations that experienced soaring demand for help.

He said 200 individual donors and entities, including Alaska Community Foundation and Rasmuson Foundation, have also provided funds, in addition to the pandemic relief money.

On Wednesday, organizers dipped into a small raffle drum to pick 16 restaurants from a list of about 50 to participate in the event for three months, starting July 19. The winners included Firehouse Subs, Gallos Mexican Restaurant, and Tent City Taphouse.

Additional restaurants will participate in a second three-month round starting in the fall, providing winter meals into January.

Brandi Rathbun, with Moose A’La Mode, said the program helped the restaurant survive the pandemic last year when there was little business and staff had to be laid off, she said. She and her husband, Martin, purchased the diner in January 2020, a couple of months before the pandemic began.

“It was devastating,” she said. “We would look and beg and plead and wait for people to come by. There was no one.”

[To lure employees during the worker shortage, some Alaska companies are offering perks or more pay. Others are scaling back until they can restaff.]

The restaurant applied for the relief program last year and was accepted. The funding helped it survive and rehire employees, she said.

“It was that ray of hope, like oh my goodness, we are going to survive, we can get through this,” she said. “If this hadn’t been created, I don’t know where we would have been.”

Angie Rush, with AK Child and Family, which supports children suffering from trauma or emotional distress, saw costs increase dramatically during the pandemic as clients suffered from increase stress and food insecurity.

The funding from the program helped the center keep its doors open and continue caring for children, she said.

Subway of Alaska, with more than 20 locations in the Anchorage area, was one of the winners on Wednesday.

Chris Wilson, vice president of the group, let out a happy “Hey, hey,” when Subway was selected.

The shop participated in the first round, making thousands of sandwiches, he said. The support kept “restaurants open and employees employed.”

Business at some Subway locations hasn’t fully recovered, so the next round of funding will be critical, he said.

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