By Melinda Munson
Skagway Traditional Council (STC) has been a distributor of the USDA Farmers to Family Food Box Program since June 2020. The resource has received renewed attention since Skagway’s food bank announced it would revert to pre-COVID policies in order to conserve its dwindling funds.
The USDA food boxes, containing fresh produce, meat and dairy, arrive once a week on Tuesdays, depending on the weather. Alaska Seaplanes delivers the 35 boxes to STC, which sends out a text message to alert residents.
The free boxes are available on a first come, first served basis and no application is needed. STC volunteers its time to receive and distribute the boxes.
“STC does not receive any funds as a distribution site and all boxes arrive free of charge to STC. We are happy to be able to offer this program to our community,” said Sara Kinjo-Hischer, tribal administrator for STC.
Currently, the USDA contracts with Alaska Commercial Company. Southeast is serviced by AC Lakeside out of Sitka. Delivery to Skagway is sometimes challenging due to bad weather. Twice so far, the deliveries have been delayed. The shipment scheduled for Feb. 16 arrived six days later due to inclement weather.
Another nutrition resource, The Skagway Food Bank, a program run by local churches, sets up credit at Skagway grocery stores for those in need. It has distributed $138,650 since Jan. 1. The board recently voted to curtail the more generous guidelines that were a response to high unemployment due to COVID-19. The food bank has now returned to its policy of $100 per individual, $200 per family, meant to last for two weeks. Upon second request, clients are asked to apply for Alaska’s food stamp or SNAP program.
Food bank president Ryan Mandeville estimated the organization currently gives out around $14,000 in assistance every two weeks.
“If the world would have gone the way we were all hoping it would, we had a good shot of making it to May 1 (the start of cruise ship season) without changing our guidelines with the other donations coming in. But as you know, things have changed,” Mandeville said.
According to Hischer, the USDA distributor would like to provide more boxes to Skagway, but could make no promises.
“We hope that the boxes can help stretch the grocery bill for those who are in need as well as the food bank budget. Since June we have seen our notification list grow from 35 to 79 today. We plan to continue being a distribution site as long as there are people in need,” Hischer said.
Skagway resident KayLynn Howard started receiving boxes in the fall. She splits the contents with her roommates “so nothing goes to waste.”
“These boxes have made a positive impact … I see the big difference it has made in a variety of households,” Howard said.
To sign up with STC to receive notification of available food boxes, text “USDA” to 833-758-0543. Donations to the food bank can be made through Skagway First Presbyterian Church at http://www.fpcskagway.org/giving.html.