Food pantry prepares to distribute holiday food boxes

Lt. Jon Tollerud and his wife, Rosie, along with a handful of volunteers have begun preparations for The Salvation Army's Thanksgiving and Christmas food boxes and toy drive programs.

Depending on the time of year, the Salvation Army's food pantry serves more than 10% of Wrangell's population, Tollerud said. Food insecurities aren't necessarily any worse during the holiday season, he said, but the effort of the food pantry changes as needed to help those in need.

Along with the food bags that are given out each week, there will be a Thanksgiving meal box distribution day and one for Christmas as well.

"It's just a different style program," he said. "Throughout the year we go after grant money that allows us to be very liberal with the application of giving people food. We refuse to take any grants that require us to have an income basis for our food pantry."

Most of the grants that have income requirements "are not quite realistic for Wrangell," he said. And if a wealthy family suddenly found themselves in need, Tollerud said those kinds of grants wouldn't allow the food pantry to serve them. "We try to remove the barriers that allow us to help people as much as possible."

But it's not a solitary effort. All the churches in Wrangell in the ministerial association contribute funding, while The Salvation Army coordinates efforts, buys food, collects donated food and distributes the weekly food bags and holiday meal boxes.

"It makes it easier to coordinate the right amount of food for the right amount of people," Tollerud said. Before Jon and Rosie arrived in late 2019, another church coordinated food relief efforts during the holidays. Since taking over the program, the Tolleruds have been able to distribute food on a weekly basis rather than monthly or twice a year.

The grocery stores are involved as well. "City Market and Wrangell IGA have both been very effective partners." Thanks to their donations and the funds raised, Tollerud said the food pantry gave out more than $11,000 in food in October. "That is a direct result of how much our two local grocery stores donate."

A family of four can receive anywhere from $100 to $200 worth of groceries each week, he said.

Weekly food bags meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture's nutrition guidelines, even though the food pantry doesn't take USDA money. It's a self-imposed requirement in case the food pantry is ever inspected, he said. And by not taking funds from the government agency, the pantry can offer items not allowed in a USDA food box, like flour, sugar and olive oil.

Tollerud wants to destigmatize the food pantry program, letting people know it exists no matter what their level of need. The people who do take advantage of the food pantry are thankful for the service.

"When we first opened up, we averaged between 18 and 20 people (a week). Now we're up to 30 to 32 families a week," said Linda Garcia, one of the volunteers. "They love it. They can pick what they want ... as much as they want. It really works out great."

Those families include anywhere from one person to as many as 16 people, Tollerud said. The food pantry serves from 80 to 100 people a week on average.

People wanting to volunteer are always welcome and can contact The Salvation Army at 907-874-3753.

Garcia said it's a community effort, with volunteers often bringing their spouses to help. "I love it. I truly love it."

Those who wish to receive a Thanksgiving meal box can sign up by Friday to pick up the kit on Nov. 19. Christmas meal box sign-ups end on Dec. 3 and kits will be distributed on Dec. 17.


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