Alaskans get into swing of charitable giving

Posted: Friday, November 23, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The situation at Bean's Cafe would have sent panic through an ordinary soul. But not Mary Wells.

Less than two weeks before Thanksgiving, Anchorage's largest soup kitchen had just 22 turkeys. Normally, 300 turkeys would be on hand for the holiday.

''You never panic,'' said Wells, Bean's development director. ''You've got to have faith.''

Wells had faith that the phone would start ringing with volunteers wanting to help prepare and deliver Thanksgiving meals. She had faith that 22 turkeys would turn into more.

Her faith paid off. With Thanksgiving just one day away, Bean's Cafe had about 400 turkeys and more than enough volunteers to feed a holiday dinner to between 500 and 700 people.

Someone even donated a jar of Russian caviar.

While food supplies could be a little short this holiday season, donations to Bean's and other charitable organizations acrossthe state are picking up as Alaskans turn their attention away from the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and toward the needy at home.

''I've been getting the turkeys. I've been getting the hams. Actually, I have been getting a little bit of everything. That is wonderful,'' Wells said last week.

Charitable organizations say that the holiday giving season got off to a slow start but picked up the week before Thanksgiving.

''The holidays seem to have just snuck up on us this year,'' said Jenni Ragland, a spokeswoman for The Salvation Army in Anchorage. ''Anchorage is an incredibly generous community. We're optimistic.''

The United Way of Anchorage postponed its food drive for one week because it was scheduled for the week of Sept. 11. When the food drive did happen a week later, more than 60,000 pounds was donated -- twice the normal amount, said United Way spokeswoman Sue Marchant.

''We are feeling very optimistic,'' Marchant said. ''Everything that has come in, almost without exception, is higher than last year.''

The United Way is a little behind in its annual fund-raising goal of $9 million by the end of November. With two weeks to go, about 60 percent of the money had been raised. But Marchant was confident the workplace giving campaign would put the United Way past last year's total of $8.6 million. The money goes to help 48 groups in Anchorage.

Marchant said big individual cash gifts of $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 have increased.

''It seems like people have been wanting to give,'' she said.

Catholic Social Services is waiting until the United Way winds up its fund-raising drive at the end of November before beginning its own. The organization's appeal letters for donations have mentioned the terrorist attacks.

''We definitely are talking about it,'' said spokeswoman Sherry Hill. ''You can't ignore it.''

Donations slowed after Sept. 11, but now Alaskans are getting back into the spirit of giving, said Marcia Briggs, director of development for the Food Bank of Alaska. The food bank distributes about 300,000 pounds of food a month, or the equivalent of roughly 200,000 meals. Last year, the group distributed more than 3 million pounds of food to groups statewide.

''We have got about eight or nine food drives going on right now with different organizations,'' Briggs said.

Beginning Dec. 1, barrels for nonperishables will be placed in the lobbies of nine Anchorage-area banks and credit unions. The food bank hopes to collect at least 10,000 pounds of food during the two-week drive.

The Great Harvest Bread Co. promised a free loaf of bread for each donated turkey. The food bank hopes to get 300 turkeys through this program.

Carrs and Safeway supermarkets decided to take donations from customers right at the checkout. The donations, which go on store receipts, allow the food bank to buy turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas at greatly reduced prices. The food bank hopes to get 1,000 turkeys through the program.

In south Anchorage, Mormon youths are helping the food bank by going door-to-door collecting canned goods and other nonperishables.

Students at an Anchorage secondary school also are collecting canned goods. If 2,000 cans are collected, the teachers promise to dye their hair blue and pink. If 5,000 cans are gathered, one of the teachers will shave his head.

''I think right after Sept. 11, the concern obviously was for the East Coast,'' Briggs said. ''But I think as time is wearing on, we're seeing it come back here.''

On Friday, The Salvation Army will join the United Way, Catholic Social Services and the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program to provide toys to over 7,000 children.

''Whenever there is a need and we ask, the outpouring of Alaskans is incredible,'' Ragland said.



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