Wisconsin’s ‘hidden hunger’ is target of Stock the Shelves campaign
APPLETON – For hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites, needing the help of a food pantry can be one event, one bill away from becoming reality.
“It’s not necessarily the people you’d expect, or even the stories you’d expect,” said Patti Habeck, president of Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization that helps stock food pantries in many parts of the state. “There’s a lot of hidden hunger. There are a good number of people in our community who are one paycheck away from being on the side of needing food assistance.”
USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin’s annual Stock the Shelves campaign is a way for local communities in Wisconsin to support the pantries and emergency food programs that provide a safety net for those in need. The campaign encourages readers to donate to a fund held by local community foundations that is distributed to local food pantries.
The program, which began at the Appleton Post-Crescent, in 2010 became a statewide effort of USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. Since then, readers and local partners have raised more than $4 million for food pantries across the state.
This year’s goal: $527,000
The 2017 Stock the Shelves campaign runs through Nov. 19. Green Bay Packers running back Ty Montgomery is the spokesman for the effort, and USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin sites across the state are working with local partners on stories, videos and events that will highlight the need in Wisconsin and the important role pantries play.
“This is USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin’s biggest fundraiser of the year,” said Chris Stegman, the network’s president. “We want to make sure every family has food on their table. There’s a need.”
The statewide fundraising goal for this year’s effort is $527,000.
A line of about 60 people formed in the 30 minutes leading up to the start of a mobile pantry event Oct. 19 in Appleton. Pallets of food were unloaded from the back of a truck, opened and set out in a rudimentary isle in a parking lot for volunteers to hand to clients.
During a roughly 100-foot walk, with a shopping cart, volunteers handed out packages of frozen meat, canned vegetables, juice, yogurt, milk and bagged produce.
Mike Weso of Shawano was the first one through the line.
“I’m just helping my family,” he said about the mobile pantry.
Weso has just recently found a job, but his family is still in a hole from the several months he spent unemployed. The food assistance, he said, “helps a lot. We don’t have to spend a lot of extra money on groceries and can focus more on bills and get caught up.”
‘We can all help each other because we all might need help’
There are thousands of Wisconsinites who struggle to feed their families and keep up with bills. A 2016 report from the United Way found that 13 percent of Wisconsinites live in poverty, but another 29 percent of the state lives without basic security, sometimes living paycheck to paycheck to cover basic needs.
Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin says about 700,000 residents in eastern Wisconsin are struggling with hunger. Of those, about 140,000 are children and another 50,000 senior citizens.
Every dollar collected by the Stock the Shelves campaign is spent in the donor’s community — no money is directed to pantries in other cities.
In addition to Feeding America and local community foundations, other campaign partners include: J.J. Keller Foundation, U.S. Venture, the Greater Fox Cities Chapter of Credit Unions and the B.A. and Esther Greenheck Foundation.
“One of our missions … is to be helpful to those communities we serve. It’s our duty,” said Robert Zizzo, editor of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, one of 10 papers involved in the campaign. “We can all help each other because we all might need help at some point.”
Zizzo has worked at four mobile pantry events and has been struck by the conversations he has with the people being helped.
“I’m always fascinated by the different circumstances that put people in a position where they need some help,” he said. “It always strikes me: That could be me, one of my family members, or one of my friends.”
Help through a hard time
Weso said he knows other families who, like his, need food assistance to get by — and he knows there can be any number of reasons and life circumstances that lead people to seek assistance.
“These troubles may have happened just like that and without expectations,” he said. “I tell people ‘It’ll get better eventually.’ And a lot of people will stop coming because it did get better.”
That’s consistent with what Habeck and many food pantry directors say they see, as well.
Pantries see clients in need of long-term assistance, commonly senior citizens or people with disabilities, but the more common user is someone seeking a helping hand after a lost job or some other unforeseen episode in their life.
“Those folks are the ones you know are using the food pantries to get through something,” Habeck said. “They are not planning to be there forever.”
Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin works with about 600 food pantries, shelters and programs in 36 counties in the state. It has facilities in Little Chute and Milwaukee and delivered 29 million pounds of food last year to sites throughout the Fox Valley, in the Green Bay area and in central Wisconsin. Half of the food it delivered was fresh produce, meat and dairy products.
“Getting on top of it is really, really, tough, but it’s not something we’re afraid of,” she said.
Part of getting on top of the issue includes community support through monetary donations, volunteer time and healthy food donations.
“Everyone can help,” Habeck said.
How to help
Stock the Shelves relies on the generosity of readers willing to donate to help fight hunger in their own communities. The campaign is driven by the donations of people like you.
Please consider giving to Stock the Shelves to help support your local food pantries.
Visit www.wisinfo.com/wm/stock-the-shelves and click “Donate now” to help today.
This article originally appeared on Wisconsin: Wisconsin's 'hidden hunger' is target of Stock the Shelves campaign