Food Bank of Alaska sees record demand and a decline in donations amid the holiday season

Tevita Paletua, a volunteer for Food Bank of Alaska, gives a plate of food to a child at the Mountain View Community Center on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Every year, the Food Bank of Alaska organizes volunteers and food donations to provide boxes of Thanksgiving dinners to families in need. 

The organization calls the annual give away Thanksgiving Blessing. Cara Durr is chief of advocacy and public policy for the Food Bank of Alaska, and says this year’s event was well attended. 

But a decline in donations and an increase in demand for groceries is affecting Food Banks nationwide, and Durr says that’s impacting her organization’s partners across Alaska. 


[Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.]

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Cara Durr: Food Bank of Alaska works with about 150 partners statewide to distribute food out to people in need. The main way we do this is through grocery rescue through many of the major grocery partners that we have, as well as community donations. And then about a third of the food we distribute are federal programs, or federal commodities, and then we purchase a little bit of food to round that out.

Wesley Early: And there have been a couple of national news stories about this increase in demand for food banks, especially coming into the holiday season — Thanksgiving, Christmas. Would you say that that’s happening in Alaska as well?

CD: Yeah. This year, we’ve really seen record levels of need at our partners. Many of them have said they are serving more people than ever before. And this is coming at a time when the food we have flowing through our network is decreased. So there’s a number of reasons for that. You know, generally, donations are down. As grocery retailers become more efficient in their operations, that sometimes means less food coming to food banks. It’s not a bad problem overall, of course, but that was kind of how food banks were set up in the beginning. And then we’ve seen a decrease in the federal commodities programs that we operate, a pretty big decrease in the last few years. It really spiked during the pandemic, and then has been decreasing since. And then that combined with the inflation and the higher costs we’ve seen, which are certainly helping to drive up the need, it just means more people and less food. One other thing that I think has contributed this past year in Alaska specifically has been the SNAP backlog. So we’ve had a lot of people that are waiting on their benefits and turning to food banks to help meet their needs.

A woman in a beige hoodie signs in families
Volunteers for Food Bank of Alaska help families get signed in for their Thanksgiving Blessing event in Anchorage on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

WE: So what do you think leads to that increase in demand? And what do you think officials can do to both make it easier for the food bank to get more donations, but also maybe make it easier for people not to need the food bank?

CD: Sure, you know, hunger doesn’t exist in a vacuum. So there are many reasons why people might struggle to put food on the table. They could be unemployed or underemployed. Maybe they don’t make enough at their job. Childcare costs, health care costs, you know, all these things factor in. Food is often one of the first resources that people cut, because it’s kind of a flexible area of the budget. You know, you can get less groceries. You can’t just not pay a portion of your rent, typically.

WE: So what do you think officials, whether it’s governments, whether it’s city leaders, can do to help address that?

CD: Certainly, you know, we would love to see more food coming through our network. Whether that’s federal, state increases in resources, that helps us. When people are fed and healthy, they’re more productive. Kids do better at school, people are able to work, things like that. But you know, just generally addressing some of the ecosystem of problems that people have, you know, child care, health care, connecting to jobs, connecting to other benefits that they need, that’s certainly important too. 

A woman in a black coat walks outside with a pre made dinner
A family leaves the Mountain View Community Center with a Thanksgiving Dinner on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

WE: So the Food Bank of Alaska does their annual Thanksgiving Blessing events. You had one on Saturday in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and you had another one in Anchorage on Monday, where you provide food… you provide food for Thanksgiving dinners, right? 

CD: Yeah, so this is a long standing event we’ve done in partnership with the faith community since 2004. So we provide all the fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner to people. Typically, we’re serving, you know, between 10,000 and 12,000 families between Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley, and we just wrapped up this year. We haven’t got final numbers, but it looks like the numbers are up from last year, at least a bit. We had a number of sites in Anchorage run out of turkeys, which doesn’t happen that often. And I think fortunately they were able to divert to another site, but it’s an indication of the raised level of need. 

WE: How were people feeling, both the volunteers who were helping get food out and the people who were able to have a nice Thanksgiving with all the fixings?

CD: It’s such a great event for that. It’s so many volunteers, so many partners coming together, so many donors coming to put this event together just to make sure that nobody has to go without for Thanksgiving, and they can have a meal just like their neighbors. All the people that come, of course, are incredibly grateful. And you know, with the cost of turkeys, we see that cost has increased a lot over the last year. That is really felt by people, and it can be very expensive to put that dinner together. But if that’s a tradition that you have, you know, it’s important to be able to do that. And so, I think by and large, everyone we saw was just really grateful.

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

Previous articleCongress members behaving badly? Murkowski sees a solution in song.
Next articleAlaska News Nightly: Friday, November 24, 2023