Food pantries seeing increase in clients during COVID-19 pandemic
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Food pantries seeing increase in clients during COVID-19 pandemic

An increasing number of people are looking to food pantries for emergency food assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fortunately, shelves are still stocked even though donations from the public have decreased, area food pantry directors report.

“We are seeing about between five and 10 new families every day, and people who haven’t been here in a long time are returning,” said Sharon Pomaville, director of the Sharing Center in Trevor.

Melissa Papacek, president of the Twin Lakes Food Pantry, said the need reaches to the far west boundary of Kenosha County.

“We have seen a very sharp increase in new clients,” she said.

Food commodities supplied by Racine Kenosha Community Action Agency are helping to meet the increased demand.

“Right now we are pretty well stocked,” Papacek said.

Coordinated effortZeke Leo, of RKCAA, said the agency has been getting more commodities to distribute to the pantries since last September as a result of the Trade Mitigation Program.

“We are getting twice the amount we normally get,” Leo said. “We are trying to distribute it as fast as it comes in.”

Pantries also saw donations from area restaurants and schools increase as a result of closures. However, pantries are seeing less donations coming in from the public, and large annual food drives, such as Scouting for Food, have been postponed.

“I’m looking at our donations from (the public) this week. . . it’s two jars of peanut butter, some graham crackers, and a case of grapefruit,” Pomaville said. “Incoming donations from the general public and grocery stores has pretty much dried up.”

The Kenosha County Food Pantry Network — consisting of the 1Hope, AIDS Resource Center, Grace Welcome Center, Kenosha Salvation Army, Shalom Center and the Sharing Center — meets regularly to collaborate and reduce duplication. These organizations serve more than 15,000 unduplicated users annually.

Amy Greil of the Kenosha County Food Bank, a new non-profit formed this month, said the organization is already working to support pantries by connecting them with producers, wholesalers and distributors.

New processes

Some pantries also have changed the manner of distribution to curbside pick-up in response to the Safer at Home order issued by Gov. Tony Evers.

However, by calling in advance, clients are still able to request specific items, provided when available.

It now also only takes a phone call to enroll in the supplemental nutritional program through Kenosha WIC, a process that had involved a face-to-face appointment that required women to bring their children along.

The change was implemented to protect against the spread of the COVID-19 virus. However, it also will streamline the process at a time when there is a greater need for assistance, said Pam Halbach, WIC director.

“As of Thursday, WIC will be able to provide all services by phone,” Halback said. “We aren’t able to see them physically, but we are definitely here for them through all of this.”

Kenosha WIC typically serves 3,200 clients per month. As a result of increased unemployment associated with the COVID-19 response, two or three new clients per day have been contacting WIC. That number is expected to increase.

“We are seeing an uptick in requests due to people being without work,” Halbach said.

How to help

Financial donations can help pantries purchase food and supplies and cover the payroll of hourly-staff, who are working extra hours to make up for the loss of senior volunteers.

Pantries are also in need of plastic bags, paper bags and boxes to package “to-go groceries.”

Volunteer opportunities exist for those who are not in a COVID-19 risk category, as pantries rely on volunteers for staffing, packing and dispersing food. However, the number of volunteers has been reduced in response to guidelines.

Pomaville said the Sharing Center is screening volunteers to establish a list of 70 “qualified volunteers” for other roles in case the need for emergency volunteers expands.

A resource list that is updated daily is available through the University of Wisconsin Extension Kenosha County website https://kenosha.extension.wisc.edu/nutrition-education/.

The list is provided by the UW Exension FoodWIse Program of Racine & Kenosha Counties, and contains contact information to connect the public directly to local pantry/meal programs.

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