Stock the Shelves in Kewaunee County: Winter, COVID brings families in need to food pantry
ALGOMA – With winter and its holidays on the horizon, Ken Marquardt expects an uptick in families in need coming to get food supplies from the Kewaunee County Food Pantry.
The director of the Algoma-based pantry said this is the time of year that sees Kewaunee County's numerous seasonal employees — farm workers and construction workers, for example — seek whatever help they can get for their families as their jobs come to a halt until next spring. And, with food being a major part of the fast-approaching Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, that help is felt even more by those in need.
"Seasonal workers tend to come in more in the wintertime," Marquardt said. "Farm workers, construction workers, they're laid off for the season, so we see a little bit of an increase in the winter months. We get more people in November and December, but we also give more away."
And that's on top of problems food pantries all over have experienced because of the COVID-19 pandemic that swept across the county — and the country — this year. That caused both a greater number of visitors and a food supply shortages. Marquardt said since March, around the start of the pandemic, 73 Kewaunee County families signed up to begin using the pantry that weren't clients before.
"The number of people who were coming in tapered a bit, but there's a fair amount of new families coming in," he said. "You've got a number of families with a large number of children, the (working person) lost their job, they're definitely stretched. We had a man come in the other week, he didn't know where to turn, he has six children, so we gave him an emergency food package (double the normal amount)."
The growing need for assistance is why USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin is holding its annual Stock the Shelves campaign that encourages readers to donate money through Oct. 31 to help fight hunger in their local communities. Kewaunee County Food Pantry works with Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, one of the news network's partners in Stock the Shelves.
Marquardt said the pantry orders food from Feeding America two or three times a month, but the partnership with Feeding America also provides a program that pairs local pantries with an area store to supply extra, and needed, food items.
For the past three years through the program, volunteers from Kewaunee County Food Pantry drive a van up to the Walmart in Sturgeon Bay every Monday morning to pick up about 850 pounds of food — and drive back to help more volunteers unpack it from the boxes it's stored in — to help fill the pantry shelves, mostly with fresh fruits and vegetables but also occasional bakery items and meat. If there are leftovers, volunteers from Lakeshore Community Pantry in Kewaunee stop by Wednesday afternoons to pick them up for that pantry's use.
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Kewaunee County Food Pantry also takes part in a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that provides a monthly shipment of 5,000 to 9,000 pounds of American-produced food to the pantry, 1,200 to 1,500 pounds of it meat, making the program the major source of meat to the pantry. Marquardt said the amount of food the pantry receives through this increased by about 20% to 25% after the pandemic struck.
Other food donations come from other area stores (Stodola's IGA in Luxemburg regularly donates dairy and frozen items among other products, Marquardt noted); Ruby's Pantry in Luxemburg, which supplies its leftovers to other county pantries after its once-a-month distribution; area fruit orchards; and even local gardeners, including the Algoma Community Garden on the pantry's property.
While the food donations are necessary for the pantry to continue helping county families, so, too, are cash donations, because it buys about 40% of the food it distributes from Feeding America and other sources, Marquardt said. He said the pantry saw a substantial increase from people in the community since the start of the pandemic; he noted the biggest personal contribution came from U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, who gave $10,000.
"The cash donations really stepped up," Marquardt said. "I know not all pantries are doing as well. I talked to one that was thinking it was going to shut down. We're fortunate that's not our situation at all."
The families that are helped by Kewaunee County Food Pantry really need the help. It's not a pantry to which anyone can come; because it works with the USDA, families must be county residents, meet income eligibility requirements and register with the pantry and they can receive goods once a month. The pantry distributes food to about 150 of its 289 registered families a month, totaling about 13,000 pounds.
Clients formerly were able to go into the pantry and choose the items they wanted, but because of the pandemic, they now get boxes of food packed ahead of time by a handful of pantry volunteers, although there is room for variation. Families of one to three people receive about $225 to $250 worth of food and other items, while families of four or more get $300 to $400 worth.
The pantry also offers a little extra to help families celebrate the holidays. Stodola's donates turkeys that the pantry distributes in November for Thanksgiving (single people can ask for a chicken if they don't want the turkey), and clients get a gift card to a grocery store for $25 or $50 (depending on family size) along with their December food box pickup. In past years, the pantry also gave books to children for Christmas and worked with area churches to organize giving trees.
Among the families receiving assistance is Agatha and Gerald Paul, a couple from Algoma who also have volunteered at the pantry for the past two years and were busy packing fresh produce from Walmart into boxes for distribution on a recent Monday morning. Agatha Paul said she wanted to perform some kind of volunteer work after retiring, and she understands the vital role the pantry plays in the community.
"It's very important," she said. "If it wouldn't be for this place, a lot of people would be starving."
Linda Benaszeski, who help start a bilingual program in the Algoma School District and works with the local LatinX community, said during a visit to the pantry, when she brought fresh vegetables, said she knew of several families in that community who struggled with lost wages because of the pandemic and leaned on the pantry to help.
"There are two families who were too proud to ever use the pantry," Benaszeski said. "But when you get to the pint where it's your children …"
"A huge number of people are using the service — (people who are) elderly, they're out of jobs with the COVID. This food pantry is a blessing."
Stock the Shelves initiative
Amid the growing demand for assistance, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin is holding its annual Stock the Shelves campaign that encourages readers to donate money to help fight hunger in their local communities. The campaign runs through Oct. 31. All donors are listed in a thank you ad that appears in Thanksgiving editions.
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.
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.
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.
Food pantries in Kewaunee County:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 in Kewaunee County: Winter, COVID brings families in need to food pantry