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Pantry Feels Pinch After Unemployed Lose Benefits

By Samantha Angaiak, Business, Employment and Real Estate Reporter, Weekend Producer, sangaiak@ktuu.com
Published On: Dec 28 2013 04:43:14 PM AKST

Salvation Army USA West

EAGLE RIVER -

Long-term federal unemployment insurance expired Saturday for an estimated 1.3 million Americans.

6,500 Alaskans are among those who will no longer receive federal emergency unemployment benefits, according to the state Department of Labor.

The Food Bank of Alaska and local food pantries said they expect to see more people seeking help in the coming months.

Joy Thompson, director for the Church of God Food Pantry, said Saturday was extremely busy.

"Hectic, busy," Thompson said. "Lots of food coming in, lots of people coming in, lots of food going out."

Thompson has run the pantry for 13 years and said the organization serves between 200 and 300 people each week.

"We have seen lots more people, lots of new people a lot more homeless people, a lot of young ladies that are homeless," Thompson said.

Thompson said the recent uptick in visitors could be in part because extended federal unemployment benefits ended Saturday.

"It's been going on for the past two to three weeks now that we've been seeing more people come in," Thompson said. "I don't know if they're just getting ready for this, but we are seeing more."

Michael Miller, executive director for the Food Bank of Alaska, said demand for food items that go to pantries and soup kitchens in Anchorage and Mat-Su Areas will likely increase by about 10 percent.

"The 'SNAP' cuts just hit in November," Miller said, referring to cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. "That was a $30 or $40 hit to a particular family. This is going to be many times that.

"I think the increase in need is going to be that much greater."

Miller said the issue is statewide and will be more pronounced away from population centers.

"Anchorage and the Mat-Su is still relatively rich with food," Miller said. "If you get in some of the rural communities, both the food available is less and the opportunity to find a job is also less, so I'm concerned."

Food pantries will have to rely on what they have now as they try to serve growing needs.

"Right now we have an abundance of food," Thompson said. "But it's winter time. Come summer time, there are no food drives.

"It's either feast or famine. It's either one or the other, and there's no happy medium."

Thompson said simple acts of kindness can mean the most to families struggling to keep food on the table.

"We have awesome people that come in here they're all so very helpful, some people cry," Thompson said. "A simple jug of orange juice will set somebody off sometimes."