Kenai Peninsula Food Bank

Kenai Peninsula Food Bank

After a year of hurdles, heaps more people needing their services and extra helpings of challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank was looking forward to a return to normal.

The food bank’s annual Soup Supper and Auction, scheduled for Saturday, was supposed to be held as usual — in person, with live and silent auctions, with everyone in attendance getting a hand-made pottery bowl and something delicious to put in it.

But COVID isn’t done throwing curve balls. With case numbers spiking on the Kenai Peninsula, the food bank’s board of directors made the call this week to cancel the in-person event and shift to a virtual model this year.

Amy Van De Grift is the bookkeeper at the food bank and one of many hands helping to launch the virtual event tomorrow.

“Let’s just say, you know, 2020 prepared us. So, our staff has been amazing and has handled these last-minute things and we are just fighting to do what we have to do in order to get where we need to be,” Van De Grift said.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted just about everything, including food shipments to grocery stores all over Alaska. Last year, Alaskans really felt it, with some products just not available.

Alaska depends on shipments for about 95 percent of its food, which makes the state fragile when those supply lines are interrupted. Reportedly, interest in local food has grown during the pandemic as well—good news for the Kenai Peninsula, which was home to more than 250 farms in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmers and local food advocates have stood on that fact to push for more in-state food production support and infrastructure, and with the pandemic highlighting food insecurity, they are taking the opportunity to push for broader changes.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank is fully open to the public once again, serving regular meals in its Fireweed Diner starting June 16. To celebrate another step toward more usual operations after a year upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, the food bank threw a Spring Festival in conjunction with its weekly Farmers Fresh Market from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 15. KDLL reporter Sabine Poux visited the food bank to get a taste of the festival.

In the past, Project Homeless Connect has been a one-day event, gathering people who lack adequate, stable housing and the agencies, organizations and volunteers who can help. Since large gatherings aren't safe during COVID, project organizers are rethinking how to get the information they need and provide the services this population needs without gathering all at once. Thanks to Leslie Rohr, executive director with Love Inc.

Courtesy of Michele Vasquez

Alaska’s first steps into statehood were shaped by its inaugural legislative class, a group of senators and House representatives who set the young government on its course six decades ago.

One of those first legislators, James Fisher, played an equally prominent role in shaping the Kenai Peninsula. Jim died of COVID-19 last month at his home at Heritage Place in Soldotna. He was 93.

Kenai Peninsula Food Bank

The coronavirus pandemic has had a particularly tough economic impact on the food-service industry. Restaurants, caterers and other food businesses that usually purchase Alaska-grown produce have canceled or drastically cut back their orders this year, leaving local farmers with a surplus of produce. The USDA is buying excess food and making it available to food banks.

“And then food banks, at their own cost, are distributing it in their areas. So we’ve been sending trucks up to Anchorage two to three times a week, bringing down pallets of fresh produce and milk and distributing it throughout the whole, entire Kenai Peninsula,” said Randi Smith, head of donor relations at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. “So that’s helped everyone because there’s no income qualification or nothing like that. It’s just, ‘This is here, if you need it, take it.’”

On the peninsula, rather than make everyone come to the food bank, the food bank is bringing food to communities by partnering with churches and other organizations for distribution. Boxes of food have been distributed at the Kenai, Soldotna and North Star United Methodist churches, the Hospice office on the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna, in Hope, in Homer and other places in between.

When we’re stressed, it can be easy to rely on junk food. After all, fresh produce can be expensive in Alaska, too. But a number of central peninsula groups are trying to make it easier to stock up on delicious produce.

The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank has been extra busy this summer, with the pandemic putting extra pressure on the peninsula. The food bank is based in Soldotna but serves the entire borough and has been making runs with fresh produce out to more of the outlying communities as part of a “farm-to-family” program. Executive director Greg Meyer said the food bank was able to use donations to purchase a used refrigerated truck, too, which helps now that they are able to distribute fresh milk, too.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Office of Emergency Management focused on community needs in its twice-weekly community conversation Thursday night. 

Love, INC., a faith-based community support organization headquartered on Kalifornsky Beach Road, is serving as the donations and volunteer coordinator during the COVID-19 pandemic. Executive Director Leslie Rohr said they’re at home in that role, even if the needs lately are higher. 

“We operate as a clearinghouse on a regular basis and that is, needs come into our ministry and then we do find the appropriate resources to fill those needs, and we just are doing it on a larger scale now,” Rohr said.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Struggling with poverty can be a lonely experience. Health, housing, transportation, employment and other factors can be a delicate house of cards. Without resources or a support system, one card slipping out of place can bring it all crashing down.

Project Homeless Connect is a way to help shore up those cards for people in need. People attending the annual service clearinghouse Wednesday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Center found all the threads of the local support net in one place at one time. And it was anything but lonely, with more than 35 organizations and services on offer and more than 50 volunteers ready to help.

Holiday food drives in full swing for food bank

Nov 22, 2019

Despite what the weather says, the holidays are just around the corner and a number of local businesses are helping make sure there are plenty of holiday meals to go around. At the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, deliveries of holiday meal packages begin Monday.

Food banks caught in trade war crosshairs

Sep 27, 2019


Food banks around the country were listed as one of few beneficiaries to ongoing trade disputes stemming from the Trump administration this summer. Part of the president’s farm bailout included more than a billion dollars of purchases of commodities to be distributed to the nation’s food banks. And while the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank has enjoyed some of that bounty, it's not been without its challenges.



Food Bank cooking up 23rd annual soup supper fundraiser

Aug 23, 2019
Kenai Peninsula Food Bank


The 23rd annual Kenai Peninsula Food Bank soup supper is coming up this weekend. It's the food bank’s biggest event of the year.




Jay Barrett/KDLL

  The smell of grilled salmon wafted across the dock of Pacific Star Seafoods on a warm and sunny lunchtime Tuesday.

The Alaska Salmon Alliance, a trade organization representing seafood processors on the Kenai Peninsula, provided the salmon feed as a benefit to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. They dubbed it the "Return of the Reds," and hope to make it an annual event.

Nate Berga, with the Alliance, said the cook-out came together quickly.

The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank had a Spring Festival and Fundraiser on May 31 with free food, live music, beer and wine, raffles, games and, more than anything, a chance to get to know the food bank. KDLL’s Jenny Neyman visited the festival and sent back this report:

The 21st annual Soup Supper Fundraiser for the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank is on Saturday, as part of the fifth Harvest Moon Local Food Festival. The first few "empty bowl" soup dinners were rather modest, compared to what the event has grown into, according to executive director Linda Swarner.