Community bands together to help Newtok families who lost food in power outage

Next filled with salmon filled up on the grassy bank of a river
Credit Andrew John / Newtok Village Council

When the power went out in Newtok for a month, some families lost all of the subsistence harvest that they had stored in their freezers. Now, the village is banding together to help those families stock up again for the winter. Plus, donations are arriving from outside the community.

After power was restored in Newtok, Tribal Administrator Andrew John went door to door to assess how much food had been lost.

“My initial estimates are minimum 5,000 pounds of food lost,” John said. “We have 10 homes that lost all their food, like, zero emergency food. Zero food.”

John and some volunteers made it their mission to refill those empty freezers.

“We are going to get some able hunters that still have unfilled tags, and fill those tags so that we can get food to our people,” John said.

John spent the week hunting for moose, while fishermen have already returned with several totes of whitefish and sheefish for those families. Good Samaritans outside of Newtok are also chipping in.

“We sent about 4,000 pounds of frozen fish,” said Director of Operations Mike Reusser. “We’re also sending or sent some shelf-stable commodities as well.” 

Reusser said that in some ways, Newtok’s power outage came at a good time for the Food Bank of Alaska because they had just received a huge donation from the Armed Services YMCA. 

“Otherwise, we didn’t have all this fish available to us,” Reusser said. “So that’s actually pretty fortuitous that we received that donation in such a timely fashion.”

Meyers Farm in Bethel and the Alaska Commercial Company have also sent boxes of produce and other food.

While the tribal administrator is out moose hunting, Newtok’s bookkeeper, Martha Simon, is managing the logistics of distributing thousands of pounds of food.

“There’s, like, a total of 10 planes bringing the shipment in,” Simon said.

She said that the tribe is delivering boxes of food to Elders and other households who can’t pick it up themselves.

Sandra Ayuluk’s family was one of those that lost all their food during the power outage. She said that with everyone’s help, her freezers are a quarter of the way full, with more food coming.

“Thank you,” she said to the individuals and organizations helping out.

She said that she is relieved that her family has something besides moose to eat.

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