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by Phillip Manning ~ November 26th, 2013

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“Green beans, apples, peas, corn, stuffing, butter, potatoes, apples, turkeys, and all kind of little homemade cakes and cookies…anything you’d need for a Thanksgiving dinner.”

That’s Food Pantry Director Shirley Lungaro describing what was on offer at the Upper Susitna Senior Center on Saturday afternoon. The Thanksgiving Blessing event is one of two major holiday food distributions. The second will happen next month in preparation for Christmas. Shirley Lungaro says that hundreds of people will have Thanksiving dinner thanks to the collaborative event.

“We’re expecting at least 150….That’s just us, here. I don’t know how many Trapper Creek is going to serve. I imagine fifty to a hundred up there.”

Distributing that many baskets means a lot of food. Volunteer Dave Ward talked turkey with me. He says that the Upper Susitna Food Pantry was distributing over two tons of food, about half of which was the traditional bird. In order to get that food to the families that needed it, over thirty volunteers turned out, including many students. In addition to volunteers who signed up, Shirley Lungaro said some arrived on the day, ready to help.

“We have been so blessed this year with volunteers. As a matter of fact, I sent some of them home, earlier, because we had so many here. They said they would come back this afternoon and help us break up.”

The Upper Susitna event was just one of half a dozen Thanksgiving Blessing distributions on Saturday. In all, the Food Bank of Alaska says that 1,963 baskets were given out in the Valley. Executive Director Mike Miller was at Talkeetna’s distribution, and says it’s good for him and his staff to attend the local events.

“On a day-to-day basis, we work with twenty-five partner agencies in the Valley, and soup kitchens and food pantries. We’re usually one step removed. we’re helping the people who are helping the people. This is an event where we get to go out and see things going on first-hand and work with the folks who are doing it. It’s really grounding, and it really brings it back to why we’re here; there are people in our communities that are dealing with hunger on a daily basis.”

The Anchorage Thanksgiving Blessing was held Monday, and Mike Miller says the number of families who received baskets is up from last year.

“For this year…we had a total of 8,038, which is right in the range we were expecting. That’s up from 7,497 from the year before, so about a seven percent increase.”

Assuming an average of a fifteen pound turkey per basket, that means over seventy-five tons in poultry alone. Mike Miller says a project of that scale requires a massive undertaking and a lot of help.

“It’s an amazing amount of effort for Food Bank staff, for literally hundreds of volunteers, dozens of agencies, dozens of businesses who donate money, turkey, time. It’s really a huge, community-wide event.”

Listing all of the partner groups would not fit into this story, since Mike Miller says there are over 300 of them. The volunteers both in the Valley and Anchorage are already gearing up for next month’s events.

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