It is autumn in Alaska and perhaps we’re now past the tumultuous spring and summer of 2019. It was tumultuous in many ways. There was extreme weather in the form of heat, natural disasters, fires and frustration from an extended period without a finalized state budget. It was a roller coaster of changes in funding affecting many long-time services that help some of the most vulnerable in our state and our community.
What I see among the people we serve at Catholic Social Services, who are living through some of the most challenging times of their lives when they walk through our door, is fear and desperation. I also see that they are tired. When I see those faces, and the exhaustion etched on them as they wait for services or their ride home, or just take a seat to relax for moment, I reach out my hand to shake theirs. We are feeling this together, unexpected challenges and unplanned for changes. That is why we are here at Catholic Social Services, to be the community connection for our brothers and sisters here who need help.
All of you in the parishes live this with us. You are here volunteering and donating and reaching out your hand — acknowledging that this is a tough time. Through this time, the community has felt your love. The outpouring of support in the form of letters and calls to our state governor and legislators, sharing your priorities for the most vulnerable in our state, and it was heard. You helped to make that happen. When the cuts initially went through because of the veto, and we thought we had to go from 240 to 100 at Brother Francis Shelter, you were there with us making those most terrible of decisions, praying with us for guidance. When we faced the tough decision to reduce hours at Clare House during the day, your might was felt. Hundreds of volunteers stepped forward to keep Clare House open, and except for four days, Clare House has stayed open. The assurance of safe shelter for moms and children is a tribute to all of you. Thank you.
Now, as we face a year in which funding for homeless services has been restored, we must thank all of the people representing us in Juneau who made that happen. Thank you to legislators who took a stand and to our governor for making the choice to prioritize vulnerable people in homelessness.
A long road remains to travel this year though. Cuts to other benefits will have devastating impacts on the most vulnerable among us. Our food pantry has already started to see the impacts. For families and individuals living in poverty, food is often a part of their budget they cut during tough times. They reduce food, they use less or no soap, they stop buying fresh food or anything that is more expensive. For a short period of time, those are sacrifices some may be able to adjust to, but over time those choices impact the long term health and wellbeing of people, particularly children and elders — those who may be in fragile health already.
September is Hunger Action Month, and sharing your food and resources is a great way to celebrate September, and to live out our Catholic teachings. At St. Francis House, we have seen a reduction in available food resources, as have our partners at the Food Bank of Alaska. We can have an impact on that though. Let us come together in thanksgiving this September and help our fellow Alaskans. Up here in Alaska, neighbors are sometimes all we have, so let us come together and share our food.
Please donate to St. Francis House Food Pantry with your time, your resources and your food. Let us pray for the hungry.
The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more on CSS, call 222-7300 or visit cssalaska.org.