The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

Local group helps fill the hunger gap


Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

A diner helps her son to some home-cooked Thanksgiving food at the Eagles Nest Christian Fellowship Church on Sunday.

About 75 people of all ages, and a dozen senior citizen shut ins, received a free Thanksgiving meal Sunday evening, baked with love and the spirit of giving by members of the Eagles Nest Christian Fellowship Church. It was the first of five home-cooked community Sunday dinners, including Christmas dinner, that will be served in the church's modest basement dining room. Visitors served themselves turkey, beans, mashed potatoes and even fry bread around the kitchen countertop as Debbie Goodwater, Pastor Dana's wife and volunteer Chris Schmidt kept the food coming. The pastor drove containers of the food to the homes of senior citizens who could not be there.

"These are really great meals for our community and for the people out there," said Eagles Nest congregant Trudy Valenza, lovingly lifting her young granddaughter Flora onto her knee. "It's difficult. It's really difficult you know. There's people out there that are working, there are people out there that have two-family incomes and yet they're still struggling financially, you know. It's hard." The weekly hot meals fill a need for those people in the community who are struggling to make ends meet as prices rise, but whose pay doesn't rise increase accordingly, she said. But everybody is welcome to come join them – even those who just don't feel like cooking, or who want some community fellowship.

The little church has provided free hot meals to the community for about four years, including every Sunday year-round for two years straight, then took a break last February. Although they do it in keeping with their own religious beliefs, to feed the body as well as the spirit as Jesus did, the meal comes with no strings attached, and with no religious message or prayer, said Debbie Goodwater. Next week the menu will be Italian, the following week Mexican, but prime rib is also on the list, and a really great Christmas meal is planned to cap off the holiday season.

"Well this is just one meal, but you have to understand how much just this one time helps," said congregant Robert Croom, a recent Seward arrival who has seen the positive effects of similar examples of charitable giving in several other places he has lived. "And it's definitely needed in the communities." "If you kind of look at it, the feds they just backed off from their food stamps, they reduced food stamps, and programs like this help families fill that gap of nutrition." In a firm voice heard across the room, Croom quickly brought forward five or six youngsters, including a few of his own, eager for desert. He told them to line up politely at the desert table and to select only one desert apiece.

Food insecurity is a growing problem across America. The national food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program was cut by $12 million this month, affecting more than 47 million Americans and 95,000 recipients in Alaska alone, according to a recent article in USA Today. In Alaska, 13 percent of the state's population will therefore feel those cuts, which amount to about $36 per month for a family of four that receives $668 each month in food stamps. SNAP benefits had averaged out to about $1.49 per person per meal.

Attendance at He Will Provide Food Bank in Seward is up and continues to rise, according to its volunteers. A couple of weeks ago, the local food bank tallied 132 clients – a record number and 100 people quickly signed up for all of the free turkeys that would be offered at this week's special Thanksgiving giveaway.

Although the free Sunday dinners Eagles Nest provides fills only a sliver of the overall economic need felt by some in the Seward community, Pastor Goodwater is confident that most people's basic needs can be met locally by continuing to work cooperatively with other churches, charitable organizations, schools, Seward Senior Center and the local food bank.

"And so if we all do all our part, I believe we can actually solve the issues here in our own town, and that includes feeding people that are hungry, and clothing people that need clothes, and assisting in any way that we can," he said.

The community dinners continue Sundays from 4:30-5:30 p.m. at Eagles Nest Christian Fellowship Church at Second and Madison. You can contact Eagles Nest at 224-5635.


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