By Melinda Munson

Skagway’s food bank isn’t a warehouse full of donated food. It’s a phone call to any of the five local churches, whose leaders will then set up a credit at Fairway Market IGA.

Ryan Mandeville, pastor of Skagway First Presbyterian Church, and board president of the Community Care Committee which runs the food program, says the service is “designed to be an easy way to get you through.”

Individuals in need can get a $150 credit, families qualify for a $200 credit. According to Mandeville, there are generally five to 10 requests in the spring with a total of about 15 for the year. Food bank clients can vary from year-rounders who ran out of funds because of illness or an expensive house repair to newly arrived seasonal workers who spent more than they anticipated getting to Skagway.

“We don’t see a difference,” Mandeville said. “…People need mercy and grace when things are hard.” 

The program is meant to fulfill short-term needs. Clients who come back a second time are advised to apply for food stamps and other resources. If there is a need for a third credit, church leaders make sure clients have contacted all available programs. Mandeville said no one has come back a fourth time.

Normally, the Care Committee has $2,000 to $3,000 to fund a year’s worth of food. An increase in donations since COVID-19 brought the total to $7,000. 

On May 8, White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad sponsored a food drive which yielded a truck bed full of non-perishable food and $3,500 in community donations. White Pass matched those donations with a gift of $2,000, raising the food bank’s total balance to around $12,000.  

“We are the most prepared we have ever been,” Mandeville said. “We’ve got more than we’ve ever had in the bank.”

So far, there have been less requests for help than in previous years. Mandeville attributes this to the lack of seasonal workers and generous unemployment insurance. He noted that the federal pandemic unemployment payments are scheduled to end July 25.

“People are foreseeing a strong need at some point,” he said.

Another aspect of the Community Care outreach is the food exchange, located in the Fellowship Hall, the green building behind the Presbyterian Church on 5th and Main. The food exchange grew out of the excess of non-perishable food left behind by seasonal workers. The exchange is a place to drop off extra food and shop for free.

“The door is always open. You can swing by and grab food whenever you want,” Mandeville said.

Karla Ray, Community Care board member and owner of Grizzly’s General, estimated that the food exchange salvages between $10-20,000 in food each fall. She picked up the check from White Pass following the food drive, where a minimum donation of $5 garnered a free White Pass hat. Because of COVID-19, the food drive was a drive-though affair with volunteers wearing masks and gloves.

“It was a really creative way to involve the community,” Ray said. “That’s more money than we would operate with in two years. It’s going to be needed.”

Ginny Cochran, better known as Grandma Ginny, also takes requests for food bank services and passes them on to church contacts. She enjoys the work she can do from home.

“We don’t want anyone to be hungry,” she said.