PALMER — The Palmer Food Bank on South Valley Way will have a new home next fall just a few blocks away. The current 1,800 square foot space is packed full of boxes of food that Director Jeanne Borega and a crew of volunteers distributed to nearly 250 families and 500 individuals per month.
“We’re cramped,” said Borega. “We need a new place.”
On Tuesday, the Palmer City Council unanimously passed Ordinance 21-016 allowing an amendment to the zoning map for the food bank to move to the corner of Denali Street and Arctic Avenue. Currently, 90 seniors pick up senior food boxes per month. On Thursday, Borega was busy calling each of the seniors who had yet to receive their box for the month of September. The food bank has been in its current location for over 20 years, around the time Borega began volunteering. She has served as director since 2012 and enjoys chatting with the Palmer residents she gets to serve.
“I just enjoy helping people and I like the people I help, too. I almost feel like I’m their friends,” said Borega. “We chat, I just enjoy it.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way that in-person services are delivered worldwide, Borega said that the Palmer food bank was able to service over 1,000 individuals and nearly 400 families. The entryway to the distinctive rust red building on Valley way is colorfully stocked with donated vegetables, cakes, and bread. Stacks of boxes climb shelves on each wall and are also piled on the floor with narrow walkways. Palmer residents who need additional food are able to shop the pantry one at a time, picking out what they need to eat. Borega not only enjoys the nourishment of local Palmer residents, but the interaction with local volunteers. Missionaries and developmentally disabled youths as part of the Next Step program volunteer their time to organize and distribute the 30,000 pounds of food that make their way into and out of the food bank each month.
“That’s all donated stuff and I just bring it out as I have room for it. It just keeps on coming in and keeps on going out,” said Borega.
The approval from the Council following the recommendation of a unanimously approved Palmer Planning and Zoning Commission resolution was among the last in many steps to move out of the cramped space and into a larger space that will allow for easier unloading and distribution of hundreds of boxes of food. The current building has a walk-in freezer that is full of meat and a walk-in cooler that is full of baked goods, vegetables and other food that will make its way out the door and into the homes of Palmer residents. Borega said that the need to move out of the 1,800 square foot space and into a larger building to serve Palmer residents has been evident for some time, and began the process of searching for a new location over a year ago. Borega’s husband and other volunteers will shortly begin demolition and a new structure will be built to serve as the Palmer food bank, which will not be ready until late summer of 2022.
“We looked all over because we wanted a place that was in Palmer and I like this location because a lot of people from this part of Palmer drop by here and we have walkers. So this spot here that we have that’s new is not that far away,” said Borega.
Borega has applied for Mat-Su Health Foundation grants for new walk-in freezers and coolers, and still has to raise money to build the new structure. The most donations come in during the late fall months when local gardeners provide harvested vegetables for Palmer residents to receive at the food bank. Trinity Lutheran Church grows their own garden each year and donates the vegetables to the food bank, but the majority of food is provided by the Federal government and the Alaska Food Bank distribution through donation from local grocery stores.
“Of course people donate food,” said Borega. “This is from somebody’s garden. This time of the year we have a lot of garden stuff but right now the apples are from somebody’s apple tree and kale is from somebody’s garden.”