ALL IN THE SAME TACO BOAT – Sitkans, many wearing face masks, line up this afternoon at the Sitka Elks Lodge food booth. With the pandemic, most of this year’s Sitka Independence Day events have been modified, but not entirely canceled. The American Legion and Sizzling Chow Cuisine also will have outdoor food booths. While there’s no downtown parade, there is a parade of classic cars that will tour Sitka streets beginning at 1 p.m. at Whale Park. A sing-along and military salute will take place on Totem Square 7 p.m. Friday and a fireworks display will take place 11:30 Friday night over Sitka Channel, with spectators asked to follow social distancing recommendations. The Rotary Club is holding its annual Duck Race on the fourth. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Food Series Focuses On Sitka’s Sea Mart

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

Sitka’s Sea Mart made national news in a feature story about the challenges of getting groceries to far reaches of the U.S. during the COVID-19 emergency.

Max Rule stands by a bike rack at Seamart Quality Foods in this photo he provided to USA Today. (Photo provided to Sentinel)

The story appeared in Monday’s online edition of USA Today with the extensive headline: “The Grocery Store at the End of the World: How a Small-town Alaska Grocer Kept Prices Even, Raised Pay during the Pandemic.”

The feature, by Courtney Crowder of the Des Moines Register, is part of a series about America’s Food Chain, focusing on “workers feeding America during the pandemic” through “a series of intimate portraits,” said a May 5 story in USA Today announcing the series.

The story focusing on Sitka walks the reader through the process of getting food through the supply chain to this town in Southeast Alaska, using milk as one example, and featuring Sea Mart’s President and Chief Financial Officer Max Rule.

“While most grocery stores receive deliveries at least once a day, Sitka is bound to the barge, completely dependent on the supply chain staying intact,” Crowder writes. “Any hitch in the system and the effects ripple outward, resulting in an empty Alaskan plate – or very dry bowl of cereal.”

Rule is photographed by the Sea Mart bike rack, with Mt. Edgecumbe in the background, on a typical gray Sitka day. Another photo shows Rule at the the front of the store.

Rule says the story featured him more than he expected, but that he hopes it also sheds light on the hard work of the Sea Mart team during the pandemic.

“I was kind of humbled by the whole thing, honestly,” he said, after seeing the story on Monday.

Rule said he and Sea Mart were chosen for the story after the writer reached out to a national grocery association to do a story about a grocer in a remote area.

“They said ‘talk to Max.’” Rule told the Sentinel. “I’ve been sharing some of the things that have been happening here, especially with our economic situation going forward,” he said. “The story is a little bit more about me than I anticipated.”

He said he hopes the story brings to light for others around the U.S. the importance of a grocery store in the community.

The story quotes Rule, “In times of crisis, whether it’s a death in the family, loss of a job, a good, solid pandemic – which we’ve never experienced before – I think people want something they can count on. They want something that they know is going to be there.”

Being interviewed for the story also triggered other thoughts about his community and the grocery business.

“It got me thinking and reflecting about what I’ve done, what I’m doing,” Rule said. “It was very introspective. ... I also think it brings to light our vulnerability to the food supply chain. If we’re cut off from Seattle we’re going to feel that. There’s not a lot we can do about that. It shapes how we shop, what we put in our pantry, the cost of groceries. I really am sensitive to the cost of groceries in the community. We still try to keep prices as low as possible and still be a viable business.”

Rule said being interviewed for the story also prompted thoughts about the future of Sitka and the hits to the community from the pandemic, including the loss of the cruise ship season.

“Yes, we’re getting $14 million in CARES Act funds, but those are just temporary solutions,” he said. “It does not carry the community and build for the future.”

But he added that Sitka is also a resilient community.

“I’m still amazed how resilient Sitka is,” he said. “If we run out of paper products, or the barge is late, people understand that. It’s a very forgiving community.”

The online version of the USA Today story includes a two-minute video shot of Sitka, by Rule. The printed version of the story is expected to appear in Wednesday’s edition of the national newspaper, Rule said.

The series involved dozens of writers in the Gannett newspaper chain covering such food chain topics as a meat packing plant, an oyster farmer and migrant workers.

In describing the purpose of the series, USA Today said: “Food workers have faced great risks to keep America fed, and we wanted to focus a spotlight on some of the people in the food chain.’’

The link to the story is at:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/pr/2020/05/05/usa-today-network-launches-series-focused-workers-feeding-america-during-covid-19-pandemic/5172531002/.

You can also get there by typing “Sea Mart USA Today” in Google

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 7-2-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 11:15 a.m. Wednesday.

New cases as of Monday: 39

Total statewide – 1,017

Total (cumulative) deaths – 14

Active cases in Sitka – 8 (6 resident; 2 non-resident)

Recovered cases in Sitka – 10 (7 resident; 3 non-resident)

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 68.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

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Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

The Sentinel is calling upon its customers to observe the COVID-19 emergency precautions already in place, particularly in maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at newspaper distribution sites.

Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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