Stock the Shelves: Community keeps Kewaunee food pantry going through pandemic
Editor's note: Amid the growing demand for assistance, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin is launching its annual Stock the Shelves campaign that encourages readers to donate money to help fight hunger in their local communities.
KEWAUNEE – Volunteer Margie Parmenter paused while filling a food order for a client at Lakeshore Community Pantry, and mentioned the pantry received a donation of gift cards for the local Piggly Wiggly grocery store, so it could purchase supplies.
"We really have a generous, generous community," she said.
It is acts like these that keep the pantry able to help the 50 or so people a week who come there because they struggle to put good, nutritious food on the table for themselves and their families.
It may never have been more true than a few months ago, when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic created a substantial increase in demand for the foods, hygiene products and cleaning supplies the pantry offers every Wednesday.
Treasurer Dan Balch said the pantry serviced an average of 160 families a month, representing 535 individuals, in January, February and March, but that jumped to 269 families in April, just after the pandemic struck the state. From June through September the pantry served an average of 202 families a month for 564 individuals.
The demand came with a corresponding difficulty obtaining a number of those supplies.
Plus, the pandemic closed the thrift shop operated by the pantry, which brings in revenue the pantry uses to purchase goods, from March through August, causing "a substantial initial drop in income." Adding to that was the cancellation, for the same reason, of the annual canned and nonperishable food drives conducted by the U.S. Postal Service and Boy Scouts.
"Right at the beginning was really important," Balch said, "because a lot of people had no food. They were unemployed, there were delays in getting their unemployment (benefits)."
However, a large increase in cash donations made up for the difference, and the increase has continued.
"We had a tremendous step up in donations from the community," Balch said. "A lot of people who were normal givers doubled their efforts. Other people stepped up with a hundred (dollars) here, a hundred there … This morning (Oct. 7), we received six checks for over $1,000. That's something you'd not normally get, so it was a nice morning.
"We have been in awe of the wonderful support by the people, organizations and businesses of Kewaunee County."
Donations have come from more than just individuals, too. Balch noted that a number of local clubs and organizations have contributed, especially the Carlton Hunting and Fishing Club. It annually donates part of the proceeds from its January gun raffle to the pantry (and those who donate a nonperishable food item get a free ticket), but Balch said the club recently donated about $1,000 worth of food a week for four weeks, all produced locally.
"We had so many of the local businesses, local organizations that were just so generous," Parmenter said. "They still are."
The food donations from the community have made a difference, too. Parmenter, who manages the inventory for the pantry and shops for much of the food, said supplies from grocery stores and Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, which distributes foods and goods to member pantries, are more plentiful than at the start of the pandemic, but they're not where they were beforehand.
"(The stores) don't have the quantity they used to," Parmenter said. "It's better now, but it's still not there."
Three county food producers are among those that have donated to the pantry for some time. Pagel's Ponderosa Dairy provides about three cows per year that become 400 to 600 pounds of hamburger per cow; the ground beef is divided into two-pound packages, which Balch said can make about 750 meals.
North Water Bakery and Deli in Algoma supplies two large boxes of bread and other baked goods weekly, as well as decorated cookies for some holidays.
Krohn's Dairy Store in Luxemburg generally has supplied about 10 large boxes of cheese (40 to 50 pounds a box) per month, and Balch said they've upped their supplies since the pandemic started.
"It's really important," Balch said. "Now, we don't have to buy beef at all, we never buy cheese, we don't have to buy bread."
Plus, Balch said the pantry has received "a lot of food, a lot of eggs" donated by local farmers. There also are items from Ruby's Pantry at St. John Lutheran Church in Luxemburg, which donates leftover food from its monthly distributions to area pantries.
And the pantry benefited this summer from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farmers to Families Food Box Program, which saw the federal government buy foods and crops that farmers weren't able to sell through their usual channels at the start of the pandemic (for example, because restaurants and schools were closed) and distribute them them to those in need.
All those donations and community efforts, large and small, by individuals and businesses large and small is why about 10 people were lined up — socially distanced and wearing face masks, as requested — outside the pantry, in the lower level of Holy Rosary Catholic Church, 15 minutes before it officially opened at 1 p.m. Most brought their own empty baskets to fill with their goods.
As happens every Wednesday, the clients filled out a sheet of items the pantry carries, indicating those they need until they return (they also can take a list home and fill it out in advance). Balch accepted the lists and baskets one at a time, assigned the clients a number, then turned the lists and baskets over to the pantry volunteers — Parmenter, Nancy Lamack, Oscar Moran, Sheri Heidel and Scott Wiley were working this week — who went down the line of goods, filling the orders.
It's a fairly smooth operation: the list of goods is given in the order the goods are stocked so there's little if any going back and forth, baskets are placed on small carts to make it easier to move around, and the volunteers joke with each other as they work independently but as a team.
When an order is filled, Balch calls out the number assigned to it, and the client wheels the cart to their vehicle, unloads it, and returns the cart to the door, where Balch sanitizes it before its next use. By the end of the day, 44 people received food and other items for 153 family members.
That community effort keeps Lakeshore Community Pantry going in its mission to help those in need of food and other household items. And Susie Kezo of Algoma, second in line on that day, appreciates what the pantry provides to her.
"The pantry is great. It means a lot," Kezo said. "It's just nice to extra in case I don't have extra funds. For me, it's a lot. They're doing a wonderful job."
Stock the Shelves to help pantries across the region
Since 2010, Stock the Shelves has raised $5 million for food pantries across Wisconsin thanks to the donations of newspaper readers and support of community partners, including Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin.
"We are excited to continue our partnership with the Stock the Shelves program," said Andy Fisher, chief business executive for USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. "Over the years this program has helped countless numbers of individuals and families throughout Wisconsin. COVID-19 has impacted many of our families, friends and neighbors throughout our communities and there has not been a more important time to band together to help these people in need.”
Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin uses the donations to distribute food to partnering food pantries. Readers can steer their dollars to specific local communities in the comment area of electronic donations or on checks made payable to: Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, ATTN: Stock The Shelves, 2911 W. Evergreen Dr., Appleton, WI 54913.
"We are committed to supporting our communities throughout our USA TODAY-Wisconsin Network and our Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and LOCALiQ employees are excited to support this great cause," Fisher said.
Participating newspapers include The Post-Crescent in Appleton and the Fox Cities; The Reporter in Fond du Lac; Green Bay Press-Gazette; Herald Times Reporter in Manitowoc; Marshfield News Herald; The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; The Oshkosh Northwestern; The Sheboygan Press; Stevens Point Journal; Wausau Daily Herald and the Daily Tribune in Wisconsin Rapids.
The campaign runs from Oct. 1 to 31. All donors are listed in a thank you ad that appears in Thanksgiving editions.
Food pantries in Kewaunee County:
- Lakeshore Community Pantry, in the lower level of Holy Rosary Catholic Church, 519 Kilbourn St., Kewaunee. Open 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesdays. Goods are available to anyone. 920-388-9050 or visit the "Kewaunee Lakeshore Community Pantry" Facebook page.
- Kewaunee County Food Pantry, 1528 Sunset Ave., Algoma. Open 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and 5 to 6 p.m. the third Wednesday of the month. Registration and proof of eligibility required; clients can visit once a month. 920-487-3663 or kcfpantry.org.
- Luxemburg-Casco Food Pantry, basement of Holy Trinity Church, 510 Church Ave., Casco. Open 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. first and third Thursdays of the month, 9 to 11 a.m. second and fourth Saturdays. 920-845-5362 or holytrinitycasco.com.
- Ruby's Pantry, St. John Lutheran Church, 700 Heritage Road, Luxemburg. Held second Saturday of the month, distribution starts at 9 a.m. $20 donation for an abundance of food; bring two large boxes or totes to take it home. Registration required but foods are available to anyone. rubyspantry.org.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Stock the Shelves: Community keeps Kewaunee food pantry going through pandemic