With just a few cans of food and some rice left on the shelf, Scott Woline and Juanita "Ann" Hill went to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank for help three winters ago.
"I'm so thankful for them," Ann said. "Those people are wonderful."
The couple and their two teen-age sons live in the Caribou Hills. A third son lives out of state. The family's drinking water comes from a nearby creek. A generator provides their electricity. A half-mile snowmachine ride gets them from where they park their Subaru station wagon to the home built by Scott and the boys. Both sons attend school in Ninilchik, where all four family members take advantage of the school's shower facilities.
Scott's work is seasonal. He's currently unemployed. Ann is working as a barista and cashier in Anchor Point.
"This is the first time I've been able to work this close to home," she said of the 40-mile drive. In the past, she's traveled as far as Soldotna and Homer, distances of 65 miles each way. "We're on more than a tight budget. We're strictly living on my income and that's it."
Dayne Clark, president of the food bank's board of directors and acting executive director, said the food bank assists approximately 9,000 people annually. A soup kitchen offers a free hot midday meal five days a week and is open to the public. A federal emergency food program provides 300 income-qualified families with food. An emergency food box, with enough food to last a month, gives immediate assistance, after which member agencies help coordinate long-term distribution to individuals and families
The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank began in the late 1980s. The current building, which houses a 10,000-square foot warehouse, was constructed in the late summer of 1996. As a partner agency with Food Bank of Alaska, the peninsula food bank is part of a network connected to Second Harvest, the nation's largest hunger relief organization, which distributes food to more than 26 million Americans a year. According to information provided by Second Harvest, nearly a fourth of those served are children.
Located on Kalifornsky Beach Road, the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank operates on donations from individuals, corporations and through United Way.
Distribution from national food manufacturers is arranged by Second Harvest, for which the peninsula bank pays a handling fee. Helping keep the shelves full are donations from Alaska distributors and retailers such as Carrs, Fred Meyer, Peterkin, Safeway, Three Bears and the Moose Is Loose bakery.
The food bank's eight employees -- three of whom are full-time -- spend mornings picking up, sorting and distributing food to their member agencies. Between 1 and 4 p.m., they provide for individuals and families who stop by.
During the holiday season, the food bank participates in Sharing the Spirit, a combined effort of local agencies.
"We really see the need during the winter," Clark said. "I know of three or four families living in campers or modified school buses. Some people come to the soup kitchen every day just to get a hot meal and to warm up."
During the summer, a garden produces fresh vegetables. According to Pam Olson, the food bank's administrative assistant, the soup kitchen reaps the reward, including fresh potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, carrots and lettuce.
Olson urges the community to help by volunteering or through food or cash donations.
"Especially right now, during the holiday season," she said.
As an example, Olson said some people take advantage of two-for-one items in the grocery stores and bring the second item to the food bank.
Clark said he knows of one person who frequently eats lunch at the food bank and makes a monthly donation of $50.
Scott Woline and Ann Hill appreciate the help they've received from the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
"Nobody deserves to be hungry," said Jim Fischer, repeating the food bank's familiar slogan. Fisher is a member of the board of directors. "Hunger is hard to see. If you want to find out if there's hunger on the peninsula, ask any school secretary. They're the ones that see it."
In August, 1,000 people on the Kenai Peninsula were given emergency food, Fisher said.
"Of that, one-third were children," he said. "But the surprising thing to me was the fact that some 67 of those were veterans."
On Thanksgiving, Scott and Ann are mindful of the support they've received from the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.
"Like I said, we live hand-to-mouth in the wintertime," Ann said. "They've given so much to us."
Thursday, the family is having company over for dinner, investing what they've been given with others in similar circumstances.
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