OCTOBER 12, 2020 — The pandemic has made it harder for many Alaskans to feed their families. Reduced work hours or job losses have many parents worrying about paying for groceries. Kids unable to go to school or child care may be missing some healthy meals that families relied on to make ends meet.
Many local, state and national programs are working overtime to ensure that kids and families are able to find safe, healthy foods during this difficult time. Federal programs are adding new services or eliminating some requirements, making it easier to get help. Local food pantries are being creative with the many different ways they’re providing food to an increasing number of families.
“We know that before the pandemic, 20 percent of Alaska kids lived in homes that may not have had enough food,” said Cara Durr, Director of Public Engagement with the Food Bank of Alaska. “New projections now estimate that will increase to 28 percent because of COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic, the number of emergency food boxes we distribute grows each week. Right now, more families need help to put food on the table.”
Here are some resources that can help families find food. Specifics about these programs are changing frequently. Check program websites or call to get the most up-to-date information.
School and Child Care Meals and Snacks
Free and reduced-price school meals are available through schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. Right now, each school district has its own plan for distributing meals. Some districts may offer free meals only to students enrolled in the program, while others may feed all students in their schools or community. Some districts may have parents pick up meals at a distribution site, while others may deliver meals directly to students. If a family did not qualify for free or reduced-price meals last year, they can apply again if they have recently lost job hours, experienced layoffs or had a change in circumstances that reduced their family’s income. Contact your local school or school district to learn more about how they’re distributing food and how to apply.
Child care centers, family day care homes, and afterschool programs that participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program provide healthy meals and snacks to children of all ages. Some of these sites may be providing grab-and-go meals for kids or families. To find a list of agencies operating the CACFP in Alaska, visit the program’s website.
Head Start and Early Head Start are child care programs for children from birth to age five. Along with high-quality education and health services, Head Start provides healthy, nutritious meals for children. At this time, some Head Start programs are operating, but with a more limited capacity, while others are providing grab-and-go meals or food boxes for families. Head Start programs are located throughout Alaska. Go online to find a Head Start program in your area.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Meals 4 Kids is an interactive map to find nearby sites that provide summer meals for kids when school is not in session. The USDA has extended the Summer Food Service Program through December 2020, so many of these programs may still be providing meals to students. Before you go, contact the program you find on the map to get the latest information.
Food Credit Cards
The Alaska Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — formerly “Food Stamps” — provides a monthly benefit on an electronic benefits card called an “Alaska Quest Card” for food purchases at participating stores. During each month of the pandemic emergency, the federal government may approve Alaska’s request to increase the monthly SNAP benefit. People can apply for SNAP by completing an application and submitting it to any of the Division of Public Assistance Offices through fax, mail or drop boxes in the lobbies. People needing help also can contact the Division of Public Assistance or the Food Bank of Alaska. For up-to-date information, visit the Division of Public Assistance SNAP webpage or the Food Bank’s COVID-19 SNAP Updates website, or contact the SNAP Outreach team at (907) 222-3119 (call), (907) 891-8913 (text), or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Pandemic-Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program provided additional benefits for families with kids who missed school meals last year (2019-2020 school year), when schools closed due to the pandemic. More funding may be approved to extend the program. Check with the Division of Public Assistance website for updates.
The Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) provides nutrition and breastfeeding education, counseling, support, nutritious foods and referrals to needed services. WIC serves babies and children up to age 5, pregnant women, and new mothers. If you are a mother, father, grandparent, foster parent or other legal guardian of a child under 5 years of age, you can apply for your child. Participants receive an eWIC card to purchase specific foods containing the nutrients that women, infants, and children need during pregnancy, breastfeeding, infancy and early childhood.
Due to the pandemic, clients can set a WIC appointment and become eligible without visiting a clinic. To apply, visit the Division of Public Assistance website, contact your local WIC clinic or call (907) 465-3100 to schedule an appointment. The Alaska WIC Program also operates the only program in the country that mails WIC foods to eligible clients if they are unable to access an authorized WIC vendor. Beginning in December 2020, Alaska WIC’s new Balto Box program will allow rural participants to place online or phone orders for their WIC foods.
The Commodity Supplemental Food Program provides monthly commodity food boxes to low-income seniors in limited areas of the state. To apply, visit the state website.
Food Banks, Food Pantries and Food Boxes
The Food Bank of Alaska has many different programs and resources to ensure Alaskans have access to food. Their COVID-19 Food Resources web page lists multiple services currently available for Anchorage and Mat-Su families. Use the virtual map on the Statewide Resources page to find services in communities throughout Alaska.
Check out the useful calendar that lists the most current hot meal sites and food pantries in Anchorage, Girdwood, Eagle River and Mat-Su. The calendar also lists mobile food pantry sites and emergency pop-up sites for Anchorage. The calendar contains a map, addresses, and the People Mover bus numbers for Anchorage sites.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) provides emergency food boxes at no cost to Alaska families with lower incomes. TEFAP has recently increased the number of people who are eligible to receive these food boxes. To see if you qualify, apply online at the application web page. To see if TEFAP is available in your community, search “TEFAP” on the Food Bank of Alaska Statewide Resources interactive map.
The Children’s Lunchbox in Anchorage provides food boxes at several distribution sites. The boxes contain dinners and snacks for two days for each child. Families will also be able to receive grab-and-go pantry boxes of shelf-stable meals for a family of four while supplies last. Check out the website for locations, dates and times of food box distribution, as well as open meal sites for kids.
The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) is run by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The program provides food boxes with a month’s supply of nutritious foods to Alaska Native, American Indian and non-Indian households that meet income requirements. It’s a great alternative to SNAP for people who don’t live near a grocery store. To see a current list of active federally recognized tribes that participate in Alaska’s program, visit the website, email email@example.com, or call (907) 729-2975.
There are many other local food pantries and programs throughout Alaska. Alaska 2-1-1 can help connect all Alaskans to these food resources, no matter where they live. Search the 2-1-1 database, email Alaska211@ak.org, or call 2-1-1 or (800) 478-2221.