Holiday food drive organizer never forgets a kindness

November 10, 2018

In this Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018 photo, Alan Mitchell poses on Second Avenue in downtown Fairbanks, Alaska. Mitchell, 49, is well known throughout Fairbanks for his community service and volunteering. His most visible project is Fairbanks Holiday Food Drive, which generated 21,000 pounds of food and $2,000 in donations last year. The holiday food drive is coming hot down the pipe and will be held from noon-8 p.m. Nov. 16 and from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Nov. 17-18. (Eric Engman/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner via AP)

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — Even though stores have been selling Christmas decorations for weeks, many people are focused on Thanksgiving preparations — especially Alan Mitchell.

Mitchell, 49, is well known throughout Fairbanks for his community service and volunteering. His most visible project, Fairbanks Holiday Food Drive, is coming hot down the pipe and will be held from noon-8 p.m. Nov. 16 and from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Nov. 17-18.

This will be Mitchell’s fifth year organizing the food drive, which stages out of the Starbucks coffee shops in both Fred Meyer stores. Volunteers pass out lists of items needed by the Fairbanks Community Food Bank and ask customers to buy and donate extra provisions.

Fairbanks Holiday Food Drive is now the Food Bank’s biggest annual food drive — generating 21,000 pounds and $2,000 in donations last year.

In an email, Food Bank CEO Anne Weaver praised Mitchell’s contributions.

“Thousands of lives have been made better by his sheer determination to make sure someone can have a better day through the work he does.”

His first year organizing the drive was a little hectic, having only been planned for three weeks.

Still, the event brought in 16,000 pounds and $1,600.

Mitchell’s desire to help is rooted in the charity he once received. In the early 1990s, he hit financial hardships and didn’t have enough to eat. Around Christmas time, volunteers showed up at his downtown Fairbanks apartment with a box of food.

“Here I was, totally despaired, totally whatever, and I get this food,” he recalled.

Mitchell made a point to return the favor — cataloging every item he received to pay it back in full.

“I got my tax return, and I got that list, and I went to Fred Meyer and I bought everything off that list — equal to or better, like my grandpa taught me — and I took it to the Food Bank,” he said.

Mitchell peppers his conversation with personal anecdotes and inspirational phrases. His hearty chuckle cuts through serious sentiments.

Mitchell first came to Fairbanks in 1988 with the Army, at first a shock for a someone who grew up surfing in San Diego.

Large, animated and potentially gruff upon first impression, Mitchell said people occasionally describe him as a bear.

He quoted a friend’s description: “Alan’s a bear, that’s true. Whether he’s a grizzly or a teddy depends on the person he’s engaging with.”

A juvenile corrections officer for the state by day, Mitchell has volunteered his time with numerous organizations, including multiple veteran causes and local fire departments; Clean-Up Day; Mothers Against Drunk Driving; the St. Baldrick’s Foundation; and Bowl for Kids.

One of Mitchell’s many mantras: “I’m one man, and I can’t do everything. But I’m one man, and I can do something.”

To some degree, Mitchell’s desire to help is rooted in his own past traumas.

“When I’m helping other people, I don’t have to look at where I’m at, necessarily,” he said.

At 15, Mitchell lost both his parents to separate diseases, and his grandma not long after. Not wanting to move far away to live with relatives and leave his only friends, he spent about six months homeless, sleeping at school, on the beach “or wherever.”

Mitchell is also fighting recurrent skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma — a disease that nearly took his life during a botched anesthesia in 2006 and has left parts of his face scarred and replaced with artificial bone. He can point to two serious sunburns as a youth that he believes are most responsible for the disease.

Mitchell knows his condition would improve if he lost some weight, but that would hurt his relationship with Haagen-Dazs.

At one point married, Mitchell acknowledges he probably drove a wedge in his relationship after nearly dying — around the time he started volunteering significant amounts of time.

“I went looking for other things, rather than looking at home.”

Come Thanksgiving, when countless families are enjoy meals facilitated by Mitchell’s community engagement, he’ll be relaxing with friends, eating his own feast.

But he would like to find love again.

″‘Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.’ I have to agree with that. I’d like to be able just to go home and be around somebody and share a life with somebody.”

For more information on the food drive, visit the Fairbanks Holiday Food Drive’s Facebook page. People interested in volunteering for the food drive can call Mitchell at 388-1824.


Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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