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Bearfoot Travel Guides: Up To Their Ears In Life & Work, Alaska's Volunteers Are #3 In The Nation

Living In Talkeetna isn't quite as "easy" as it seems.
Back in 1986, President Reagan declared November 1th "National Philanthropy Day." At home in Alaska, "philanthropy" means volunteering to help your community.

It's no surprise that Alaskans are at the top of the list in volunteering time and resources. The Corporation for National and Community Service lists Alaska as #3 in the nation. But that doesn't mean it's easy, and that's what makes this statistic even more significant.

Many people who donate time to their communities in Alaska are very busy folks. Yet, over and over again, we see people taking time from their homes, families and work -- to step up for their communities as volunteers.

Talkeetna's Two Volunteer Food Programs  Are An Example of Locals Helping Others

In Talkeetna, Jenny Krepel, who is vice president of the Upper Susitna Food Pantry, has been busy with other local people, bringing much-needed food to Talkeetna and Trapper Creek families. We found this out by complete accident, calling around town, looking for a phone number of possible food banks. The first person we happened to call was Jenny. Although we didn't know it, she was the one coordinating the local program.

 Upper Susitna Food Pantry Serves 200 Families

Jenny says the Food Pantry has distribution points in Sunshine and at Trapper Creek Church. Two hundred families get supplemental food. About a third of the food is donated by locals, and the rest is from various programs. Jenny says recipients don't get a huge amount of provisions; they get just "a handful" of meals. But, she says, it's worth it. "We have people who tell us without this food there would be days at the end of the month when they couldn't eat."

This Thanksgiving, the food pantry, working with other food banks in the valley, will be giving out food for a Thanksgiving meal -- on November 22nd.  They'll also be handing out Christmas baskets on December 20th. Jenny says the food program couldn't be done without strong community help: "We have a huge cadre of volunteers for the holidays, and who help us throughout the year,"  she said.

Although many Alaskans use the PFD's Pick-Click-Give method to help  volunteer organizations, the Upper Susitna Food Pantry isn't in the PFD system so it depends completely on local help.

Helping Children During School Breaks 

There's another food program in Talkeetna.

Filling The Gap is a family project. It feeds children during the Christmas and spring school breaks -- when the school food program is not running.

Trevor Walter, his wife Kerry, and their three sons operate Filling The Gap.

"What happened is, I home school, and my kids and I were sitting around, just talking," Kerry told us. " I thought to myself, what happens to these school aged children, who go home for the holidays, and it's supposed to be joyous and happy, and they get home and they have a situation at home where Mom and Dad can't provide the meals they were getting at school?

"Well, my kids decided that year that they didn't need anything for Christmas. So each of them gave $500 so these children could have food. We went out and went shopping for food. We were able to talk to the Food Bank and they were able to coordinate a way to get food to those families. 

Talkeetna in midwinter.
"The school system's on board with this program. The names are never revealed. We hand out the food on the same days the Food Bank gives out its Christmas basket. It's really great because people don't feel embarrassed… We're not a wealthy family. We live paycheck to paycheck. We make ends meet. But we're just trying to make these children's lives a little bit sweeter." The Walter family is helped by a friend, LouAnne Tysdal.

Filling The Gap is not part of the PFD's Pick-Click-Give program either -- so it's completely local. Like most philanthropic and volunteer activities, it just comes from the heart, and a commitment to improving our communities, and helping others.

Volunteerism is so common in Alaska -- yet so incredibly unique and unexpected that it's worth noting. It's what makes Alaska the third highest volunteering state in the nation.

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