Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The Executive Board of the Juneau Chapter Alaska State Employees Association Local 52 heard the news in January that Alaskan residents applying for food stamps were facing a months-long backlog as a result of staffing shortages in the Division of Public Assistance. They felt compelled to take action.
Paul Kelly, President of the Juneau Chapter AFSCME/ASEA Local 52 said what pushed them to organize this after seeing news articles and hearing about the backlog on the radio.
"As state employees, like we're all Alaskans, and as members of the Juneau chapter, these are all our neighbors that we're talking about. Even though we're not responsible for the staffing decisions at our level, we all feel responsible for helping these people and it's affecting our members too," he said. "It's our staff who are the people who are overwhelmed at the Division of Public Assistance. They're putting in extra hours Understandably frustrated citizens are making complaints and, in some cases, they're dumping their frustration on our employees. We're all taking it home. This is affecting everybody."
Adam Bauer, Treasurer for the Juneau Chapter AFSCME/ASEA Local 52, added onto that.
"The essence of it was the fact that people who are eligible for SNAP benefits can't get them because they are not able to get processed. I realized that our local union honestly has funds to support the community has not been able to do much during the pandemic. We had an excess of funds. And so this seemed like an ideal opportunity," he said. "Rather than just make a donation directly, we decided that we could engage the greater community and do a matching funds donor donation. I really do believe that there's interest and concern in the community to support the food bank, to support families who are having a hard time. Particularly to support families who honestly should be able to get some benefits. Through no fault of their own, they're not able to get the food they need to feed their families."
Both Kelly and Bauer attended an AFSCME/ASEA Local 52 rally last month to staff the state. They said they had the GoFundMe on the agenda even before then, but it took time to get the approval to spend the saved $30,000. In the meantime, they organized canned food drives with state employment offices and various offices around town. A representative from the legislature put a box in her office as well. In total, the food drive gathered 500 pounds of food.
That food went directly to the food pantry of the Lutheran Church.
The membership meeting took place on Feb. 21 and they voted to organize the GoFundMe.
"Whenever the new legislative season comes up, the ideas about what we need to do to speak up for ourselves in our community start to percolate. I also know that apropos of the SNAP benefits, the legislator was embarrassed enough to put in some emergency funds," Bauer said. "I know that the Southeast Alaska Food Bank does have some emergency funds from the state to buy food to provide to the community as a stopgap measure so that families have got something to eat."
TheGoFundMe goal is $30,000. Bauer explained the GoFundMe process.
"Those are reserved funds that our local chapter has that are dedicated to community support at our last general membership meeting, we approved $30,000 to go there. We also approved another $2,000 to cover the transaction costs that come with any sort of donation system that runs through a credit card system. We decided to use GoFundMe because it's a legitimate, well-recognized contribution organization," he said. "It can be set up so that funds go directly through them directly to the food bank. So we don't actually get into the accounting process at all. We just track the funds and match them dollar for dollar up to our $30,000 donation amount."
The food bank will then disperse the food throughout the community.
"I'd just like to thank the Juneau community in advance. That's one of the things I love about Juneau is it's big enough to have some of the amenities but it's also small enough that you have a real sense of community and people helping out," Kelly said.
Here is the direct link to donate.
Two days in, the GoFundMe has gathered $775.
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