A.E. Weisgerber

Donations feed Alaskans in need

When Alaskans applied for Permanent Fund Dividends early in the year, many decided to donate a portion or even all of their payment to charity. PFD charitable contributions are facilitated by Pick.Click.Give, a safe and secure way to donate. Many charities benefit from Pick.Click.Give, including the Food Bank of Alaska. However, because the amount of the PFD isn’t known when donations are made, there is uncertainty for the organizations. (In 2015, the PFD Division paid out its largest dividend in history, $2,072 to 644,511 eligible Alaskans. The most recent 2016 PFD, at $1,022, was less than half that.) Although the PFD was cut in half this year, pledges to the Food Bank did not fall by the same rate. Pick.Click.Give. donations totaled $89,550 in 2016 compared to $101,775 in 2015. Karla Jutzi, Communications Director for Food Bank of Alaska, said her organization is lucky to have supporters who donate their entire PFD to the Food Bank. “Back then, there was volatility, lots of uncertainty on what was happening and what the amount would be,” she said. Although charities might wish the PFD amount were higher this year, the need for the services a food bank provides remains unchanged. With a need for good meals undiminished, the Food Bank is working hard to ensure that no Alaskan go hungry. Jutzi estimated requests for help were up 15 percent, yet donations were down overall about 10 percent, compared to a year ago. “We do know our 70 partners in Anchorage, Chugiak and Eagle River and our 20 partners in the Valley say the need has been going up,” she said. Tuesday, Nov. 29, is GivingTuesday, and the Food Bank of Alaska is taking donations to fill plates for neighbors in need. You’ll be joining Anchorage businesses and tens of thousands of people nationwide. Donate or set up a #GivingTuesday team here. Donations of $17 can buy a turkey; $45 means a holiday meal for a family; and $250 can feed a family of four for a week Next Up: Holiday GIFT On Dec. 13-14, Food Bank of Alaska will host its Holiday GIFT event, when those in need can receive a festive meal and a toy for children up to age 14. Pick-up locations are zip-code-based, and customers need to supply proof of address and document to verify ages for children. When asked if it’s better for an Alaskan to donate money or goods to a food pantry, Jutzi said both are welcome. “Best is what works best for (the donor),” she said. In terms of what the ideal foods might be, Jutzi advised, “I think when people are considering donating, they should ask themselves: ‘What do you like? What is good, nutritious food that is shelf-stable? And to think of kids. What might be some quick and easy meals for kids?’ Peanut butter, or cans of stew with the pop-top. Things that are high in protein and that kids can manage.” The most sought-after food drive items include: peanut butter; jams/jellies; breakfast cereals; mac and cheese; canned meats, fruit and soups; easy-open canned meals for kids; Top Ramen or noodle bowls; and coffee. As the Holiday GIFT event approaches, other suggestions include aluminum roasting pans; canned corn, green beans and cranberry sauce; box mix stuffing; gravy mix, and condiments. Jutzi said the Holiday GIFT kit also includes 5 pounds each of potatoes and apples, and a turkey. Cash donations also help the Food Bank. “We can get more food with the dollar than (individuals) can,” Jutzi explained. “We have wonderful support from the foods industry and deliveries from the Lower 48.” Although the number is not yet exact for this year, Jutzi said that Food Bank of Alaska has currently served 5.7 million meals to Alaskan neighbors in 2016, and counting. Food Bank gives thanks In a recent interview with The Star, The Food Bank of Alaska’s Executive Director Jim Baldwin said the FBA “is fortunate to have a very generous community, with lots of volunteerism. We’re extremely grateful. We can’t help our neighbors in need without the support of the many agencies and partners with whom we work. “Tremendous support is received from local grocery markets and wholesalers. We get to share in that abundance when they have a surplus,” Baldwin said. Baldwin will be spending his first winter in Alaska, having spent the last 20-plus years as Executive Director of the Food Bank of Hawaii. He joined the FBA in July, and said there are similarities between Hawaii and Alaska. “When food comes to us from the Lower 48, it gets trucked or railed to the West Coast, to Seattle, and is then put on ships,” he said. “The remoteness of both creates unique logistics for moving food around.” A.E. Weisgerber began her reporting career in 1999 as an entertainment and features writer. She was a 2014 Reynolds Journalism Fellow at Kent State University. Her reporting has appeared in New Jersey Monthly, The Wall Street Journal, The Courier Press, and many more. Follow her @aeweisgerber.

Facebook, unfriending, and the great echo chamber

Would you unfriend someone on Facebook, because of political views? Facebook users are fed up with political grandstanding. A September 2016 Monmouth University Poll said, “More than 2-in-3 voters say that this year's presidential race has brought out the worst in people.” Kelly Adrian of Eagle River said, in a recent email interview, she Facebooks “to keep in contact with family that live out of state.” Adrian is unsurprised friendships are strained by social mediapolitical postings.  Looking back on the election season, she said some have made Internet posts they likely regret, and have “lost good friends because of it.”   “People end up looking very bad, when maybe they typed something in the heat of the moment,” Adrian said. The Monmouth poll revealed 7% of voters reported losing or ending a friendship because of this year's presidential race.  This included 9% of Clinton supporters, and 6% of Trump backers. Facebook helps birds of feather flock together A March 2016 poll by Edison Research reported 25% of Americans aged 12 and up get political news from Facebook. Facebook uses algorithms to control what stories appear in a user’s news feed. News feeds are the product of connections and activity, including likes, comments, and shares. Facebook’s goal, to keep site users happy, skews news feeds to include only information a user receives positively.  Unfriending decreases exposure to opposing viewpoints.  Dr. Christopher Sibona, Assistant Professor of Management and Information Systems at the Cameron School of Business in the University of North Carolina, has researched unfriending. In 2014, Sibona published a landmark study on effects of social media unfriending.  He said in a recent interview that some users take disconnection to a more drastic level, and deactivate. It’s often temporary.  "(Facebook) is quite a ‘sticky’ site,” Sibona said, “so I suspect people may take a break and come back. Discontinuance from a social networking site is hard." As far as unfriending, Sibona said, "Polarizing posts are the second most common reason for unfriending - after posting too frequently about inconsequential information.” Nicholas John and Shira Dvir-Gvirsman researched politically motivated unfriending and unfollowing on Facebook. In 2015, they published their paper in the Journal of Communications, “I Don't Like You Any More: Facebook Unfriending by Israelis During the Israel–Gaza Conflict of 2014.”  John and Dvir-Gvirsman surveyed 1,013 Jewish Israeli Facebook users.  They found, “a total of 16% of users unfriended or unfollowed a Facebook friend” during the Conflict.  They also concluded that unfriending was more prevalent with “ideologically extreme” and “more politically active” Facebook users. “The two main reasons given for unfriending or unfollowing someone were that they had posted either offensive posts (52%) or content with which the unfriender disagreed (60%). A total of 17% unfriended someone who posted content that might offend other of their Facebook friends and 7% unfriended someone for arguing with them about the conflict,” according to the study. Unfriending, the Israel-Gaza study found, is “seen as aimed at creating a “clean” environment where there are no (or fewer) voices that you would rather not hear.”  That is an echo chamber. A.E. Weisgerber began her reporting career in 1999 as an entertainment and features writer.  She was a 2014 Reynolds Journalism Fellow at Kent State University.  Her reporting has appeared in New Jersey Monthly, The Wall Street Journal, The Courier Press, and many more. Follow her @aeweisgerber.

Millennials expect an experience online and in person

New habits are popping up on every Main Street in the country due to the prevalence of social media. New words – FOMO, ICYMI, and bae – are being added to dictionaries seemingly every week. The common term “clickbait” refers to sensational, alluring headlines and links that say: You won’t believe what happened next… Take this quiz to see which ‘Real Housewive’s character you are... Nine out of ten Alaskans do this in bed…  But what if this urge to click on links led to real doors opening? What if local restaurants, stores and museums provided click-worthy experiences, appealing to more buyers in the local community? What if eateries and businesses Downtown began thinking of themselves as providers of backdrops for Snapchats, or Instagram-ready table settings to go with tasty meals? Pew Research Institute reported that 82 percent of 18-29-year olds use Facebook, 55 percent use Instagram, and both of those are losing ground to Snapchat, a wildly popular mobile app that rewards and fuels the drive for instant gratification by making content disappear after 24 hours.    “Snapchat for Millennials is huge. It’s quick, its immediate, it’s now, it’s easy to do, its current,” said social media strategist Tracy R. Williams, owner of Alaska Tracy. Based in Anchorage, Williams works with companies around the state. As Williams explains, Millennials do not want phony and showy, but they do want a connection, to the business, to the employee, and to the world at large. What does it mean for local business? Alaska is a very young state and Millennials are reshaping it. Embracing an aesthetic that sees the world as scenery for the next selfie or six-second film may be good for the bottom line. The Millennial desire to create interesting online content in the form of Instagram posts, Snapchat shares, and Facebook status updates, can help businesses looking to attract customers. “Social media is like a billboard. The more you are out there the more your business can be seen,” Williams said. When YPulse, a youth culture research specialist, surveyed Millennials in April 2016, interesting trends emerged. Despite the bum rap social media often gets, YPulse found that for 51 percent of youthful social networkers, receiving likes “gives them a rush.” According to Judith E. Glaser, CEO of Benchmark Communications and author of “Science Explains the Millennial Brain” in Entrepreneur Magazine, social sharing “stimulates the production of oxytocin,” a.k.a. the “feel-good” hormone. Experiencing life, with the added bonus of having Instagram-pretty meals and profile-photo-worthy photo opps, is what gets a curious Millennial in the door. This has led to a new word worth considering that’s not quite in the dictionary: experiencification. It was first coined in 1983 in a forward-thinking management book by Richard Normann (1943-2003). Normann defined the term in Reframing Business as a purchasing experience that brings the customer a personally meaningful “context, or story.” “For example,” he wrote, “cars for most people have long since ceased to be simply objects used for functional transportation.” They are, he said, “purchased as a means of expressing personality,” or to define a person’s brand. Millennials are looking for experiences. Anchorage is looking for Millennials. (Various economic development events have been held in recent years, with the topic of how to attract and retain talent from this generation.) Millennials are more likely to go somewhere that will provide opportunities to generate interesting content for social media profiles. And there’s a lot of them. According to the Census Bureau, the 83.1 million young adults aged 15- to 35-years old now represent “more than one quarter of the nation’s population. Their size exceeds that of the 75.4 million baby boomers.” A.E. Weisgerber is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal and New Jersey Monthly. She has interviewed Henry Kissinger, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Al Franken and many more. Follow her on Twitter @aeweisgerber.
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