At United Way of Anchorage, we’ve long said we fight for the health, education, and financial stability of everyone in the community. So, we like to think of everyone as our partners in this work. That’s why we say thank you to everyone in Anchorage who has been dedicated to outlasting and overcoming COVID-19, from the simple, essential act of wearing a mask to the hazardous bedside care of those who suffer the disease at its worst.
And thanks to those who have borne the economic brunt of the shutdowns that enabled us to cut viral communication lines and keep most of us healthy.
Because of these efforts and clear, steady guidance from our public health leaders, Anchorage and Alaska have often led the nation in vaccination rates as well as having some of the lowest infection and death rates. Throughout the past year communities in Anchorage and across Alaska have listened to our medical leaders and followed their advice. We have asked hard questions, followed the science, and used our common sense to care for our families and neighbors. We discovered what worked and we acted on that knowledge – mask up, sanitize, maintain physical distance. And once the means were available, vaccinate.
This has been a long haul, about 14 months and counting, and we still haven’t run the whole course. That’s why we give thanks to our partners for continuing this pandemic work and providing us protection and care. We count our partners in the hundreds. Some are distant referrals, as when we connect an Alaska 2-1-1 caller in need to an agency outside of Anchorage that can help. Some are those with whom we work hand-in-glove, like Lutheran Social Services, which delivered the first waves of rent relief to laid-off workers and their families in the first weeks of the first shutdown of 2020, or Camp Fire Alaska that helped us stand up Learning Pods across Anchorage.
We’ve strengthened long-standing partnerships with the Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska Community Foundation, Alaska Children’s Trust, Anchorage School District, Municipality of Anchorage, and the State of Alaska. In doing so we’ve fortified and streamlined our work to deliver the most pandemic relief to the greatest number of our neighbors in need.
Partnerships are rarely seamless. Sometimes there’s friction. But that’s more than offset by what we accomplish with complementary skills and shared purpose. The gains of collaboration are exponential.
This is seen most clearly for me in our longstanding donors. We thank them for their history of giving that has built a strong United Way of Anchorage, ready to respond when our community needed support. We thank them for their continued giving that has fueled and expanded our partnerships and provided the ability to respond in crisis. The beneficiaries of that steady light are all of us in the community, especially those hardest hit.
A prime example is the Restaurant and Hunger Relief program, which begun as a pilot project in November and serving three meals a day ever since. The program invested private donations and pandemic relief funding to provide support to our struggling restaurants, keep their workers drawing paychecks, and increase support to nonprofits feeding seniors, kids, and hard-pressed families, allowing them to serve some of the finest fare they’ve ever set on the table – or sent home with clients for dinner.
Restaurant relief’s numbers are grand: Through April 18, 57 restaurants (44 percent of them minority-owned) had provided 106,000 meals to 33 sites run by nonprofits helping neighbors from preschoolers to seniors. The program spent about $1.5 million to keep those restaurants in business and hire, rehire or retain 555 employees.
This amazing community effort was accomplished in collaboration with the municipality, Alaska Hospitality Retailers, the Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska Community Foundation, public and private money, and our amazing restaurant community’s generosity and hard work. Acting separately, we never could have achieved such numbers. Together, we’ve taken the program beyond its original estimates.
And what we’ve gained goes beyond the numbers. As Jason Ellis of Mo’s Deli said, the relief lifeline gave both owners and restaurant workers hope that we all can get through this thing.
Further, the program has strengthened our community connections because it has tapped some of the best we have to give. Pride in their trade, love in the work showed when Mike Middleton, general manager of Humpy’s, talked about the challenge before his kitchen staff: Bring in dinners for Covenant House Alaska within the $18 budget and worthy of the table at the restaurant. They did.
Angie Rush, of Alaska Child & Family, talked about the delight of the kids in her residential programs at the meals that came from restaurants like the Bridge, Mo’s Deli, Hula Hands, Sullivan’s, and El Rodeo, a delight that heartened all hands, those who ate, served or made the meals.
This has been kindness and care writ large and well organized, a sense of community served warm, good for body and soul. It’s the right prescription for a pandemic.
It’s the right prescription for after the pandemic too.
Alaska’s good work and the thousands of individuals getting vaccinated have carried us closer to the day when we will have COVID where we want it, in the rear-view mirror. As we move forward building our new normal together, let’s build upon the strong partnerships that have been formed and strengthened in these hard times, let’s build on the community spirit that has seen neighbors helping neighbors, and continue to work across the community as we build our new normal with you.