The coronavirus pandemic brought waves of global unemployment and food insecurity. And even now, with hope on the horizon as vaccines are beginning to roll out across the nation, Unalaskans are still in need of food assistance.
Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence (USAFV) — which provides a number of services, including crisis intervention, temporary shelter and food assistance — saw an 18 percent increase in local food demand in the second half of 2020, compared to the same time period the year before, according to M. Lynn Crane, executive director of the local nonprofit.
But Crane said that increase only tells so much about the needs of Unalaskans. USAFV staff members don't track food by poundage, like some similar programs. Instead, they track the number of times they've provided food and the number of people they've provided it for.
"We spent more than twice as much on food this year than we had at this time last year," Crane said. "So [food insecurity] is definitely way up."
While USAFV is able to meet the community's food demands, she said the pandemic has underscored certain challenges.
"We do struggle with storage and with being able to keep healthier foods on hand," said Crane. "And we're looking at creative ways to deal with those issues."
One creative solution, she said, is a partnership with the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska as they develop their food bank.
The tribe and USAFV will collaborate by referring clients to one another, according to Alysha Richardson, emergency response and community safety coordinator for the Qawalangin Tribe.
The tribe will also be partnering with hunger relief organizations such as SeaShare and Food Bank of Alaska.
"The tribe is also a member of the Alaska Food Coalition, which connects us to other hunger relief organizations and resources around the state," said Richardson. "In addition, our tribal health organization, the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, has received a two-year grant through the USDA to assess food security in our region, and we will be partnering with them to assess Unalaska."
While tribal officials are still negotiating a lease for its location, Richardson said they hope to have the food bank operational by next month.
As the Qawalangin Tribe and USAFV collaborate to address the rise in food insecurity in Unalaska, Crane said USAFV hasn't seen a similar uptick in calls regarding domestic violence on the island, despite an increase in many communities across the nation.
"This does worry us because we know that the isolation and the financial strain caused by the pandemic creates a climate in which family violence seems to flourish," Crane said.
After the tragic loss of several young locals prior to the pandemic, she said it may be especially difficult for Unalaskans to reach out for help right now.
"People are kind of in a state of prolonged trauma and shell shock, and they are hunkered down and sort of just powering through," said Crane. "And I think that can make it really difficult for people living in a violent relationship to think about making a change."
Crane encourages people experiencing violence or food insecurity to reach out, even just for safety planning or to discuss possible options.
For assistance, Unalaskans can call the USAFV crisis hotline anytime at 581-1500. Texting options are also available from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily at 359-1500.