Matt Davis - Bread Line

Matt Davis, the chef at Bread Line’s soup kitchen, Stone Soup Cafe, stands with sack lunches he prepared for the community on Thursday, in Fairbanks. Alena Naiden/News-Miner

Hannah Hill remembers a difficult time at the Bread Line soup kitchen back in September. Chef Matt Davis was just finishing baking six chickens for the next day’s meal service.

“And here goes the last protein in the house!” Hill, executive director of the Fairbanks nonprofit, recalls Davis saying.

Bread Line, a Fairbanks nonprofit serving hot meals and sack lunches to the underserved Fairbanks community, started to struggle to meet the increasing need in September, Hill said. Staff from the United Way of Tanana Valley heard about their lack of resources.

In a matter of a day, the United Way donated an “armload” of frozen chicken to Bread Line and gave the nonprofit $10,000 that covered its immediate need for food for the community, Hill said. That was in addition to the $5,000 Bread Line received from the United Way in spring.

This is just one example of the support nonprofits in the Fairbanks area received during the COVID-19 pandemic from the United Way of the Tanana Valley— the organization that has been providing fundraising, advocacy and volunteer resources to various agencies for about 65 years. Since March, the United Way has adjusted to the changing community needs, allocating funds to the pandemic-responding organizations, setting new goals for its annual fundraising and transferring their outreach online.

“We see a greater need in our community because there is a greater number of people in need,” said Jennifer Luke, executive director of the United Way of the Tanana Valley. “And as the need in our community is rising, we need to make sure that the funding we provide matches that need.”

Back in March, the United Way started a COVID-19 Response Fund specifically for the local agencies providing necessities such as food and shelter during the pandemic, giving out more than $114,000 for immediate needs, Luke said.

Another organization that received some of that money was Immaculate Conception Church Soup Kitchen. The bookkeeper Terri Atkins said that operation saw more than an 80% increase in the need for the hot meals at the beginning of the pandemic and that the funds from the United Way helped them buy more food.

As for its annual fundraising goal, the United Way aims to raise $907,000 before June 2021 — an amount that hasn’t increased from last year’s goal to account for the economic challenges many of the donor companies experience, Luke explained.

“We are realistic, and we know people are struggling right now,” Luke said. “We want to make sure we give them a goal we can reach, a goal we can accomplish together.”

Luke added that the United Way focuses not only on the amount of money it aims to raise but also on the number of donors that will end up giving their support.

“If we can get little dollars from a lot of people who can give to the community, we can make a huge impact, and the need will be met,” she said.

While the United Way team hopes to gather the money by summer, its biggest fundraising push falls on the period between now and February when companies are looking to donate money to receive tax deductions.

While all their campaign materials are online, the United Way of the Tanana Valley also contacts the potential donor companies in person and virtually, depending on their operation during the pandemic. The donors can choose whether they want to give money to the agencies that partner with United Way, to the nonprofit of their own choice or to a combination of both.

Unlike some grants nonprofits receive, the money from the United Way comes for whatever need the nonprofit staff sees as urgent — and it comes fast.

Hill said that for Bread Line, that meant receiving help at the exact moment it was needed.

“That ensured for us smooth sailing — smooth for running a soup kitchen during the pandemic,” Hill said.

Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at 459-7587. Follow her at