When the onset of Coronavirus in the U.S. began to change the way we lived our daily lives, the realities of the changes began to shift our focus, and the concerns of the rural Alaska communities we serve also began to take shape. By meeting with our partners, the Rural Team quickly realized that, for the safety and preservation of the communities, they would need to devise a new plan for this summer, and it would not look anything like previous years.

The primary goal was to limit potential contact with the virus as much as possible, which meant not sending people from the outside into small rural communities. Usually, Camp Staff are hired, oftentimes from out of state, and sent into the communities, but this year we have focused on Workforce Development—hiring from within the community to handle things on the ground, like supply distribution, communication with families, and other assistance throughout the summer. After much logistical planning, the Rural Team recruited employees in each community, developed activity plans, designed kits to put together to be shipped out to the rural communities, and found a warehouse site in which to make it all happen. These activity kits are packed up, boxed, shipped, and distributed by the community staff person to each family!

“This year, we are focusing more on meal activity kits,” Rural Alaska Program Manager, Stacie Baker, explains, “We increased food and cooking activities due to food insecurity caused by the pandemic. We also increased the produce quantities distributed to community members, so the cooking activities will be able to utilize those ingredients. Elder meals are also still happening in a big way. Elder meals will consist of a backpack full of produce, Pilot Bread, coffee, tea, Spam, and rice. We’ve sent out 232 meals so far and have more shipments planned.”

A fun element this year for families is a photo contest that they can participate in as an optional bonus. For each photo they submit, they get an entry to win a prize. The prizes are age appropriate and something the individual can use in their day-to-day life! They will be doing three drawings throughout the summer.

Activity kits are being packed three days a week from 9am to 5pm throughout the summer. We have had a couple of volunteer groups come in to help and they have been able to pack over 800 kits, which has been a tremendous help! “These activity kits have been a lot of work, but it’s so worth it!” one volunteer comments, “I love that my time spent here is going to have an impact—that it will feed a family in Rural Alaska and keep kids engaged and learning.” The Rural Team is so grateful for individual volunteers and volunteer groups, as there is much work to be done.

We are so excited to receive more photos from rural communities throughout the summer and to see the program in action. So far, it is looking pretty successful. While the pandemic has caused some chaos in rethinking the way things are normally done, it might actually turn out to be a good thing and has kicked certain projects into high gear.

If you are interested in volunteering your time to help pack activity kits, contact Camp Fire’s Rural Alaska Program Coordinator, Shaina Clemens, at sclemens@campfireak.org.