Kenai Peninsula Food Bank

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.