A team of volunteers led by Maryann Sison are transforming the Kodiak Food Bank to make it more inviting to visitors by repainting walls, adding shelving units and re-orienting the space to add accessible aisles. The aim is to make the space look, feel and function more like a grocery store.
“It’s going to be more welcoming, and a better atmosphere,” Sison, 25, said.
Throughout the week volunteers from the Kodiak High School branch of the Key Club – an international service network – and Kodiak Young Life, a Christian youth mentoring program, patched walls, moved and cleaned old furniture, put up drywall, and assembled shelving units.
On Tuesday afternoon, hours of hard work were capped off with a barbecue.
The effort is led by Sison, a Kodiak High School graduate of the class of 2010, who became the director of Kodiak’s food bank last week.
In the past, visitors sat in a waiting area near the front doors, while employees packed boxes of food for them. Now, visitors will peruse the aisles freely to locate the items they need.
Sison said she recognized the need immediately upon taking the job.
“The people that come here deserve just as much respect and hospitality as if they went to a regular store,” she said. “Just because they’re low income or need extra help doesn’t mean they should be treated differently.”
The Kodiak Food Bank sits on the campus of the Kodiak Baptist Mission, a 3.6-acre site just outside city limits that also holds a preschool, a summer camp, and a small farm.
The charity is affiliated with and receives support from Feeding America, a network of 200 nationwide food banks. Feeding America is the third largest charity in the country, according to a 2016 report by Forbes – larger than the Salvation Army – with an annual revenue of approximately $2.4 billion.
Cara Durr, director of public affairs for Feeding America’s Alaska branch – the Food Bank of Alaska – said that the “client choice model,” or making food banks feel more like grocery stores, is something the organization has been increasingly supportive of.
“It allows the client to pick the foods they’re going to eat, and it reduces waste because they’re not getting items they don’t want, or can’t eat,” she said.
Durr said cultural preferences, the ability to plan meals and the presence or absence of cooking equipment – like stoves, or refrigerators – make it important for people to be able to select the items that suit them.
“It allows them to take foods they are able to prepare,” she said.
Sison said she hopes to have the food bank up and running by Tuesday.
The Kodiak Food Bank is supported by federal programs like the Emergency Food Assistance Program or TEFAP, but relies heavily on local donations.
Walmart, Safeway, Cost Savers and the Coast Guard base donate food that is nearing or a little past its expiry date but is still healthy to eat, Sison said.
The Coast Guard base is the most helpful of all local contributors, she said.
“The Coast Guard gives us really, really good stuff,” Sison said, including items in high demand like meat, dairy products and kids’ lunches.
The Kodiak Food Bank distributes approximately 12 tons of food to Kodiak residents each year. But according to the organization, that is about eight tons short of what is needed in the region.
According to data compiled by Feeding America, roughly 11.2 percent of the population of Kodiak Island, or about 1,560 people, are food insecure.
The U.S.D.A. defines food insecurity as when “access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.”
Approximately 600 children or 16.1 percent of kids on Kodiak Island are food insecure, the data show.