In May, Catholic Social Services held its 25th annual Charity Ball. This celebration and fundraiser has been an important event for our organization over the years, and we have been so blessed by the generosity and commitment of donors and supporters. Attending the beautiful event and celebrating its big anniversary brought to mind how Catholic Social Services began.
As a relative newcomer to the organization, I am sure there are many out there who know this story better than I, but we began first as the St. Francis House Food Pantry. In the beginning, Holy Family Cathedral began to distribute food to the hungry in our community. That was nearly 50 years ago, and still our St. Francis House Food Pantry is very busy, serving on average 115 families every day it is open and distributing more than 600,000 pounds of food every year. St. Francis House is the largest food pantry in the state. Clients run the gamut from seniors on fixed incomes to working families struggling to make ends meet. We ask our clients what other expenses they have to cover that make it difficult to afford purchasing food, and we hear “rent,” utilities,” “medical bills” and other critical needs in life. Most of our clients have jobs or are retired and need a helping hand. CSS and the larger community of Anchorage are here to help. We are open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the last Wednesday of every month, 4-6:30 p.m.
Our pantry is stocked with food items, most of which is purchased at a reduced rate in partnership with the Food Bank of Alaska or with business partners in town. We also receive federal support for specific programs, along with generous donations from local parishes, organizations and individuals to supplement what we purchase. These donations allow for more healthy and fresh choices, which are so important to the overall health of our community. St. Francis House Food Pantry is staffed by three people and relies on numerous and amazing volunteers to serve our large clientele. Volunteers stock items, as well as serve as personal shoppers for our clients. In addition, we have students from the school district working in St. Francis House to acquire life and work skills. St. Francis House is truly an example of the community working together.
We can demonstrate great success, but still we face the question that we have faced since the beginning:
“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” (John 6:5)
Food security is an issue that we as humans have been dealing with throughout history. Thinking about the story of the loaves and fishes brings to mind how St. Francis House makes small miracles happen — in partnership with all of you in Anchorage — to have enough food to support those in need. Every day, in every season of the year, there are hungry people in our community. By all of us coming together and joining our resources, we can feed our community. If you’d like more information about St. Francis House Food Pantry, or if you would like a tour, please contact us at our website: cssalaska.org.
Thank you to those original Holy Family parishioners who began this beautiful institution in Anchorage, and a big thanks to our long-time St. Francis House Food Pantry Director, Linda Bond. Linda is retiring this month, and we will miss her very much.
The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more information about CSS, call 222-7330 or visit cssalaska.org.