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Court employees compete, donate a ton of food

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A friendly competition between the Kenai’s District Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender Agency helped people in need this holiday season. 

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The two offices, which generally compete toe-to-toe at the Kenai Courthouse, collected food last week as part of a private food drive. The public defenders won the competition, donating 1,547 pounds of canned and dried foods. The district attorneys donated 978 pounds of food.

Assistant district attorney Angela Garay started the food drive after speaking with her mother who volunteers at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. 

“Talking to her about the needs of the food bank gave me the idea that maybe it would be fun for the two offices to give back to the community in this way,” she said. 

The offices participated in friendly competitions in the past such as softball games and trivia nights, but Garay thought a food drive was something everyone could get excited about, she said.

The Public Defender Agency immediately accepted the challenge. The competition was light-hearted, as no one went to court or ended up in tears, Ben Adams, assistant public defendant, said.

“Nobody’s going to jail,” he joked. “No matter what happens the food bank ends up winning.”

However, employees of both offices were aiming to beat their competitor. Everyone brought in something, Garay said.

Starting Dec. 12, employees gathered dried and canned foods, piling the non-perishables in barrels provided by the food bank.

Lance Joanis, former Kenai district attorney, donated a 50-pound bag of rice early in the week. Other employees donated store-bought tomato sauce and beans — the large 10-ounce cans, Garay said.

Adams said the odds were stacked against his office.

“There are only nine of us,” he said. “The DAs have a much bigger office plus agencies that support the office, such as the police departments, judicial services and the juvenile probation officers. We’re going to have to try really hard not to get beaten.”

By midweek, a large pile of food at the public defender’s office had accumulated. Save-U-More in the Kalifornsky Beach Area helped the office, providing deals to Adams for the competition.

“They helped me quite a bit,” he said. “I brought an entire pickup just loaded to the gills back to the office, and there’s another load waiting for me.”

Although the competition between the two law offices was private, the food bank places barrels all around the Central Peninsula area during the months of November and December. The barrels are placed primarily at financial institutions, such as Wells Fargo, First National Bank and Denali Alaska Credit Union. 

Food drives play an important part in total donations, said Linda Swarner, executive director of the food bank.

“Other organizations hold food drives as well,” she said. “School drives, Brown Bear hockey team drives and youth group drives. We usually get most of our food from food drives during the last two months of the year, because during the holiday season people tend to give more.”

Over one million pounds of food are processed at the food bank yearly, she said.

Donations are distributed throughout the Peninsula. A total of 67 member agencies from Homer to Moose Pass receive the food.

In 2010, the food bank collected 14,000 pounds during the last two months of the year, which equals about 9,300 meals. 

The competition was very personal for the public defenders, Adams said.

“From our perspective, all of us have dedicated our lives to helping the less fortunate,” he said. “We could all be making a lot more money doing other things, but we believe in helping the poor, which many of our clients are.”

Overall, the competition was a success with over a ton of food donated, representatives of both offices said. 

“The competition made it more fun, but ultimately the people that needed help are going to have a better Christmas because of it,” Adams said. 

A similar competition will likely occur next year.

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