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Feeding the dream

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Food Pantry helps working poor to get by 

On a snowy Friday morning, patrons at the St. Francis House Food Pantry come to receive the food that helps them get by. They come in all shapes and sizes, all ethnicities and nationalities. Here, they are simply hard-working people trying to make ends meet, and the Food Pantry helps them do this with dignity.

“These are the working poor,” says Linda Bond, director of operations for the Pantry, which is run by Catholic Social Services. “For them, it is making a decision of paying for their rent or for their food.”

The St. Francis House Food Pantry serves roughly 115 people a day, four days a week – with 10 to 12 new patrons each day. A $200,000 donation by Providence Health & Services Alaska, part of 58.2 million in community benefit in 2014, has helped keep the doors open. Qualified recipients receive a once-a-month, two-and-a-half day supply of food, including fresh vegetables, meats and breads.

“We are so grateful to Providence for their help,” says Lisa Aquino, Catholic Social Services’ executive director. “Their assistance helps us to continue to offer high-quality food and the staff to help run the pantry.”

Indeed, the donation is much needed. After one of the pantry’s primary funding sources expired last year, organizers were not sure what the future held. Catholic Social Services, turned to Providence, and was not turned away. This donation funds a full-time pantry position as well as continued purchasing of fresh produce and other healthy foods. 

On this particular snowy day, volunteers greet customers at the check-in station and help them fill their carts in a tidy room set up like a mini grocery store. Canned goods line the shelves and frozen salmon steaks and other meats are stored in a freezer. Fresh produce is kept chilled in refrigerators and even a few treats are stashed at the end of one aisle, offering those with a sweet tooth a special purchase.

Home health aide Rex Minabowan wheeled a cart into the pantry’s wide aisles with a volunteer escorting him. Volunteers help recipients keep track of the amounts and types of foods they are allowed to purchase and assist with the paperwork involved in keeping track of the operation.

“The services they provide here are almost a miracle,” said Minabowan, who shops for two of his homebound, low-income patients. “A lot of people struggle and a lot of people don’t know about this. I wish they did. This helps people save a lot of money.”

Providence Health & Services Alaska and Catholic Social Services continually strive to fulfill their goal of helping those in need, especially at critical times, through the St. Francis House Food Pantry. In Alaska, no one should go hungry, and when organizations come together to assist the poor and vulnerable, it only strengthens the community. 

“Providence’s funding is a vital part of St. Francis House because we have only three-and-a-half positions to run everything,” Bond says. “The rest are volunteers.”

“Those positions translate to people being served,” Aquino says. “And that’s what we aim to do.”