According to the Food Bank of Alaska, one in six children in Anchorage awake each morning to the possibility that they won’t have enough to eat that day. Food insecurity is a problem in Alaska and throughout the U.S.
Dave Patterson, a parishioner at St. Patrick Parish in East Anchorage, said he and his fellow parishioners are acutely aware of this need, which often seems achingly desperate during the holiday season.
That’s why 50,000 pounds of food, or 25 tons, will be given out from St. Patrick’s parish hall on November 25.
Since 2005, St. Patrick’s has been involved in a citywide, comprehensive project called Thanksgiving Blessing, coordinated through the Food Bank of Alaska. A November day is selected for a huge Thanksgiving giveaway in six sites throughout Anchorage organized by zip code. St. Patrick is one of those sites.
“One of the best things about this program is that we help to demonstrate unity through community,” Patterson said. “The community sees a need and wants to fill it.”
And fill it they do. For several hours, St. Patrick’s will be turned into a veritable dinner giveaway operation.
“We have over 225 volunteers,” Patterson said, “and we’ll start with set-up as early as 6 a.m.”
Crews work throughout the facility all day, registering people in the church, walking them to the parish hall where the food awaits, and serving as personal shoppers, a carry-out team, traffic and crowd control and stockers. Another crew will work in the kitchen to keep the volunteers themselves fed during the day. Volunteers come from a variety of congregations and groups, including the Alaska Military Youth Academy at Camp Carroll.
Last year, the Food Bank estimates over 8,000 families received a Thanksgiving dinner through the Thanksgiving Blessing, and St. Patrick’s alone served over 1,400 of those families.
The Food Bank provides the turkeys and most of the perishables and welcomes monetary donations to cover the cost of thousands of turkeys and thousands of pounds of butter. Donors can specify, if they wish, which zip code they want their donation to benefit.
The perishable goods are delivered to St. Patrick’s and the other five venues early in the morning, and any perishable items not given away are picked up by the Food Bank after the event for storage at their facility.
The parish collects both monetary donations and non-perishable food items, and tables are set up at St. Patrick’s in October to begin the collection.
Both Lumen Christi Catholic High School, at St. Benedict Parish, and Holy Rosary Academy contribute.
“Lumen Christi’s special assignment is the stuffing mix,” Patterson said with a smile, “and Holy Rosary has a competition between classes for who can collect the most cans of either green beans or corn.”
But it’s also an ecumenical and interfaith project. Five public schools in the zip code area contribute, and volunteers and donations come from local places of worship like Temple Beth Shalom and the Muldoon Community Assembly.
Any left-over non-perishable items are contributed by St. Patrick’s to St. Francis House, a food pantry operated year-round by Catholic Social Services.
The parish, Patterson said, has been helping with food collections “for decades, back to the days when we met for liturgies at Chester Valley School,” a local public school, in the 1970s. But Thanksgiving Blessing fulfills a need in an efficient way, he said.
According to the Food Bank, the faith community came together in 2004 to plot out an organized approach to food distribution for Thanksgiving. Instead of individual churches having limited resources or different requirements, or running out of food and leaving recipients wondering where to try next, larger distributions were planned all at the same time – from 3 to 8 p.m. – on the same day. Recipients are asked to register at an accessible location organized for their zip code.
Besides St. Patrick, the other Anchorage locations holding a Thanksgiving Blessing simultaneously on November 25 are: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints on Brayton Drive in South Anchorage, Spenard Recreation Center, Central Lutheran Church at Cordova and 15th, Joy Lutheran Church in Eagle River, and Mt. View Community Center, with special hours of noon to 8 p.m.