September is Hunger Action Month, a time to think about food security in our community. Nearly one in seven Alaskans are food insecure. Do our friends and neighbors have enough food to feed their family tonight, this month or this year? Food donations — and assuring that families could eat — is how Catholic Social Services began more than 50 years ago. The parish at Holy Family Cathedral set up a pantry to distribute food to neighbors and parishioners in need of a little help. No names collected or payment asked for — just one family sharing with another to make sure they all got through the week.
St. Francis House Food Pantry at Catholic Social Services continues that mission to this day, providing an emergency supply of groceries to families four days a week, every week of the year. Volunteers from throughout the Anchorage Archdiocese and the wider community come to help our clients receive the groceries they need.
Our pantry has evolved from the operation that began at Holy Family Cathedral. Today it is more like a grocery store of the food security system, directly providing food to families and individuals experiencing hunger. St. Francis House is a place where people can walk the aisles and choose food for their families once a month free of charge. A personal shopper volunteer accompanies each client as they choose the food their families need based on household size, preferences, dietary needs and culture.
As Alaska’s largest food pantry, St. Francis House depends on donations and partners across Anchorage to help offset costs. The largest single supplier is the Food Bank of Alaska. They ship, distribute and warehouse the food. We purchase food from the Food Bank at 19 cents a pound — really just the cost of shipping. Also, during Hunger Action Month in September, all food distributed to St. Francis House from the Food Bank is free of charge.
Fresh produce, meat and bread are possible through strong partnerships with businesses like New Sagaya, Costco, Northern Sales and Greatland Foods. These partners frequently donate goods directly to St. Francis House, which then allows us to have a greater variety and fresh food. More than 95 percent of clients say they are satisfied with the overall selection and quantity received from the pantry and say it contributes to a more healthy diet. Amazing partnerships like these, and many generous donations, make it possible to stretch the dollar and provide 750,000 pounds of food to families in need.
All of you play an important part of stocking the pantry. The community donates so much food and time. The food pantry benefits from nearly 6,000 volunteer hours every year. Food drives at churches, businesses and schools around town bring in fresh fruits and vegetables and other items that provide the final piece in having enough food for everyone.
In all, the pantry serves about 100 families and distributes 2 tons of food, every day we are open. Throughout the year, more than 17,000 Alaskans receive food from St. Francis House, and many say the food allowed them to pay a bill that would have otherwise gone unpaid. We are only one part of the food security system — it is partnerships throughout the community and people like you that complete the system and feed hungry families. This September please keep families experiencing hunger in your thoughts, prayers and actions.
Let us remember a recent teaching from Pope Francis: “You pray for the hungry, then you feed them. That is how prayer works.”