Since mid-August, Alaska Air National Guardsmen assigned to the 176th Force Support Flight Sustainment Services, who are local to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough area, have been volunteering their time to assist the Five Loaves, Two Fish Kitchen in Wasilla, Alaska.
“As a force in readiness, the relevancy of the National Guard increases through the flexibility of these Airmen,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Franz Deters, the senior noncommissioned officer in charge of the volunteer effort.
The kitchen relies on donations from the Food Bank and other foundations to prepare quality meals for local Mat-Su residents in need. The organization employs only one professional chef, Air Force veteran Mike Gordon, and the rest of the staff is completely made up of unpaid volunteers. The kitchen is next door to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, whose kitchen committee heads up the operation.
“When the guard started volunteering here, we were very short staffed,” said Duane Hanson, one of the kitchen’s dedicated civilian volunteers. “Their work here has kept us on track in our efforts to help as many people as we can.”
The airmen work twice a week for three hours each day, preparing about 600 meals per month.
We get to help Alaskan citizens, filling in at a time when there are fewer available volunteers, all while getting training that allows us to gain additional experience in our jobs that we do for the guard.”
Air Force Master Sgt. Franz Deters, Alaska Air National Guard
The airmen are certified in food handling, with years of experience cooking in the Air Guard. They have been assisting the kitchen in food preparation, which consists of peeling, cutting, dicing and cooking various food items, before being put into sealed packages.
“I take pride in the fact that I work with a team that never says ‘It’s not my job,'” Deters said. “I work with men and women who will volunteer to go where they can have the biggest impact.”
According to Deters, this unique volunteer opportunity to serve the local community also helps his team meet mission essential training requirements for their work in service career fields for military service.
“We get to help Alaskan citizens, filling in at a time when there are fewer available volunteers, all while getting training that allows us to gain additional experience in our jobs that we do for the guard,” Deters said. “It’s really a win-win.”
Good Shepherd Pastor Rick Cavens, retired Alaska National Guard chaplain, oversees the kitchen staff. The kitchen provides meals to My House Homeless Teens Resource Center, Knik House and Family Promise. Recently, the kitchen started a meal program for Mat-Su School District families, with the intention of providing a food portion big enough to feed an entire family.
“I have two extended families, my church and my military family,” Cavens said. “The National Guard has offered a tremendous helping hand during this difficult time of uncertainty. We’re very thankful for their hard work and dedication to helping the local community.”