Alaska Life

As Thanksgiving approaches, Alaska food banks, shelters seek donations

Over the coming Thanksgiving holiday, food banks and shelters in Anchorage and Fairbanks and on the Kenai Peninsula expect to supply more than 12,000 Alaska families with holiday meals. From traditional turkey to fresh Alaska salmon and homemade bread, directors at each location said they will depend on the support of thousands of community members to ensure no Alaska family goes without Thanksgiving dinner.

"There is always a fear that there won't be enough food," said Michael Miller, director of the Anchorage-based Food Bank of Alaska. "We plan on about a 10 percent increase (from 2013) in people needing help."

Miller said since last year's federal cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program -- or SNAP -- and the expiration of long-term unemployment benefits, the Food Bank of Alaska and its partners saw a "quick and steady increase of people in need" of their services.

Miller added that 30 percent of those people, which he said was a conservative estimate, are new clients and families.

"Most of these people are working people who just can't make ends meet," he said. "What we don't know is if this is the new normal."

Miller said the food bank estimates a Thanksgiving meal costs about $45 for a family of three or four.

Anchorage and the Mat-Su area

The Food Bank of Alaska will host its annual Thanksgiving Blessing event in coming weeks. There will be six sites in the Anchorage and Mat-Su areas to pick up the food. The Thanksgiving Blessing event will take place Nov. 22 in the Valley and the Anchorage event will be held Nov. 24.


"We will be feeding people from South Anchorage to Trapper Creek," said Miller.

Mountain View, in East Anchorage, is where the Anchorage-based food bank plans to serve the most people. Miller said they plan on 3,000 Mountain View families attending their Thanksgiving Blessing event.

Anyone interested in donating food can drop off the items at the food bank's Ship Creek location at 2121 Spar Ave. in Anchorage. Or food can be brought directly to one of the Thanksgiving Blessing sites.

They are also still looking for volunteers to help on food giveaway days. To volunteer, Go to

Just down the road from the food bank warehouse, Bean's Cafe is also looking for help. They're seeking traditional Thanksgiving fixings, with a plan to serve 1,200 people on Thanksgiving.

The kitchen has a maximum capacity of 125 diners at a time, but executive director Lisa Sauder said they will work people through "until everyone is fed."

"We will use the food bank and get direct donations," said Sauder. "But the food bank has many other places they are working with so direct donations to us are very important."

Thanksgiving at Bean's Cafe requires about 80 volunteers, plus help from more than 100 clients, according to Sauder, who added that local schools are making the decorations.

There are very few volunteer slots still open for Thanksgiving Day at Bean's, but anyone who's still hoping to fill one those spots is welcome to call the cafe at 907-433-8603.

"We are so fortunate for the community," said Sauder. "The community just really supports us and we are in such a fortunate position. We have some people who've volunteered for 30 years."

Neither Bean's Cafe or the Anchorage food banks will accept homemade goods. Everything donated must be commercially processed.

On the other hand, the Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission along Tudor Road is happy to take all the homemade goods they are given.

"We do take what people make for us. People bake pumpkin pies, apple pies, cherry pies and pecan," said Thomas Ruggles, kitchen manager for the Rescue Mission.

In addition to the traditional Thanksgiving meal, Ruggles said the organization, which doesn't receive any state or federal funding, also likes to cook up big breakfasts around the holidays.

"It's just a real treat for them," Ruggles said. "We like those big holiday breakfasts, with eggs, bacon, sausage and hash browns."

They are looking for all of the traditional fixings, as well as the special breakfast foods.

The Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission, located at 2823 E. Tudor Road, is open for donations 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It will hold its Thanksgiving meal from 3-5:30 p.m. on Nov. 26, the day before Thanksgiving.


They plan on serving 250 to 300 people.

Ruggles added that anyone who'd like to volunteer should call their front desk at 907-563-5603.

Feeding Fairbanks

The Fairbanks Community Food Bank, which serves those residing in Fairbanks and North Pole, is also looking for more donations, specifically homemade bread.

"We want the love of the community to go into the food box," said Fairbanks food bank Executive Director Samantha Kirstein?. "We want to do things we'd do for our own family."

Fairbanks students are helping with the bread donations. Kirstein said 1,000 Fairbanks students are making one loaf of bread for themselves and another for the food bank.

In addition to the specially made bread and traditional holiday foods, each of the 2,000 food boxes the Interior Alaska food bank plans to send out will also have fresh Alaska salmon, the result of bycatch donated by commercial fisheries.

The food bank will drop off boxes at two locations the day before Thanksgiving, both of which are first-come, first-serve. The First Presbyterian Church of Fairbanks, at 547 Seventh Ave., will have food set up outside from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. In North Pole, head to the Lord of Life Lutheran Church, at 1005 St. Nicholas Dr. at noon, where the food will be served until it is gone.

So far, the Fairbanks food bank has enough of some items but is still in need of pies, stuffing, pumpkins, yams, turkeys and homemade bread. Donations can be dropped off at 725 26th Ave. #101 in Fairbanks.


Serving the Kenai Peninsula Borough

Meanwhile, the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank is also hoping to get some of the basics for Thanksgiving meals.

"We are short on traditional foods like stuffing, dehydrated potatoes, vegetables, canned fruits and pie," Kenai Peninsula Food Bank Executive Director Linda Swarner said.

She said all donated food needs to be commercially processed. The food bank will also try to provide extras in the Thanksgiving boxes, things like crackers and macaroni and cheese.

According to Swarner, the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank ordered 800 turkeys, most of which will go to other agencies that will distribute them.

The food bank serves 20 percent of the entire borough population regularly, through church programs, nonprofits, senior centers and individuals.

The food bank takes donations Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Anyone in need of a food box can call the food bank at 907-262-3111 or stop by 33955 Community College Drive in Soldotna, which is also where donations can be dropped off.

Calls to the Juneau and Bethel food banks for this story were not returned Monday or Tuesday. If you live in these areas and are interested in helping out, contact your local food bank. As recently as late October, the Bethel food bank was struggling to stock its shelves.

Megan Edge

Megan Edge is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch and Alaska Dispatch News.