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ALASKA 2-1-1: Food referrals up first half of 2012

Anchorage, Alaska – Referrals to Anchorage residents for food assistance jumped significantly in the first half of 2012, according to Alaska 2-1-1, the statewide help referral line. From January through June, food referrals comprised 15% of all referrals to Anchorage residents and 35% of the basic needs referrals.

Basic needs consist of food, housing, transportation, and household goods and clothing. In Anchorage, basic needs have been a growing segment of the total 2-1-1 referrals. Referrals for basic needs in Anchorage constituted 42% of all referrals the first half of 2012, compared to 40% in 2011 and 33% in 2010.

September is Hunger Action Month in Anchorage; the Day of Caring Food Drive is Friday, September 14.

The increase in referrals for food assistance is a reflection of both increased need and stress on service providers, according to Michele Brown, President of United Way of Anchorage, which operates Alaska 2-1-1 on behalf of Alaska United Ways.

“More people are calling for food assistance, and as supplies have dwindled at some providers, people are looking for new sources,” she said. “Food referrals are the canary in the mine. Since the cost of food isn’t fixed – unlike rent, utilities and transportation – people often find themselves short for groceries and look for help.

“In addition, there is a chronic shortage of resources to help folks with rent and utility assistance.  Alaska 2-1-1 brainstorms with callers on other ways to stretch their incomes so they can keep current on rent and utilities. Referrals for food pantries and meals sites are an important way to make sure people stay housed and warm,” Brown said.

What is very clear, she added, is that the entire support system for helping people in need is not keeping up with demand.

“Increasingly since 2009, we’ve seen more Alaskans – working people higher on the income scale than ever before – struggling to make ends meet. People who didn’t need help before need it now,” she said. “The biggest message I take from the 2-1-1 data is that many people have not been able to dig out financially. Demand on the system is unremitting and it’s taking its toll on people and systems.”

Social service agencies statewide will get help in meeting at least some of the demand, thanks to a $1 million safety net grant from the Rasmuson Foundation. The funds will be distributed statewide based on population. The first round of grant funds will be issued September 14.

Statewide, referrals for basic needs have remained about the same, around 30% of all Alaska 2-1-1 referrals. Of those basic needs, housing still constitutes the lion’s share, at 50%. However, food referrals have increased over previous years as a percentage of the basic needs referrals.  As a percentage of basic referrals calls, food has climbed from 23% in 2009 to 24% in 2010 to 26% in 2011 and now 34% in the first half of 2012.

Alaska 2-1-1 connects Alaskans statewide to a wide range of community, health, and human services. All calls are confidential. Alaska 2-1-1 is operated by United Way of Anchorage on behalf of Alaska United Ways. Please visit www.alaska211.org.

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