During times of crisis, our communities must come together to ensure the basic needs of people are met, including shelter, clothing, water, and food. Thanks to a collaboration between the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, many communities in Wisconsin received a helping hand in getting food out to individuals and families.
Beginning in May, the Farmers to Families free food box distributions held weekly drive-through, contact-free mobile pantries to help the growing number of people facing hunger due to the pandemic. The Farmers to Families food program was funded by the USDA, who paid the farmers for their food and the distributors. Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin helped facilitate the distributions by working with the sites on logistics, securing volunteers, handling the food, and ensuring any leftover food was taken to local pantries.
Nearly 40,500 boxes of food were distributed locally. In Oshkosh, food distributions took place at Kolf Sports Center on the UW-Oshkosh campus and moved to Menominee Park once college was back in session. Drive-through distributions also occurred in Berlin, Green Lake, and Ripon. Hundreds of cars lined up weekly to receive the boxes of food, many taking extras to deliver to neighbors and families. Most weeks, the boxes contained cooked chicken, potatoes, carrots, milk, cheese, and yogurt. Organizations including Oshkosh Corporation, AMCOR, UW-Oshkosh, J.J. Keller, the Oshkosh Area United Way, and your Community Foundation stepped up to coordinate local volunteer teams each week.
Community volunteers in masks and gloves helped load the boxes into people’s cars while some shared their heartfelt appreciation for receiving the much-needed food. An Oshkosh local took to Facebook to share recipes she created with the food she received in the box, and other community members offered to pick up extra boxes for strangers.
The program will continue through the end of the year, alleviating pressure on local pantries to provide enough food for families, especially during the holiday season.
The Oshkosh Area Community Pantry reported no shortage of food since COVID hit. A steady supply of good food was made possible thanks to Feeding America and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). The pantry was also very fortunate to see an uptick in monetary donations to support their efforts.
Along with many nonprofits, the Food Pantry had to adapt to the changing environment. The typical shopping experience pantry users were accustomed to was shifted to a drive-up, no contact approach. By implementing new restrictions and safety procedures, the Pantry was recently able to reopen and operate as a store again.
The pantry serves as more than just a place to receive food. For many individuals, the pantry provides much-needed social interaction with others and a place to feel accepted. Despite the new restrictions on the number of people allowed in the pantry, the sense of community has never been greater. Even behind the mandatory masks, the joy and happiness of clients and the volunteers can be seen.
The Oshkosh community has done an outstanding job of alleviating hunger. Between the Feeding America free food box distributions, the food pantries, and the school district providing meals to students and families, food was one concern during COVID that was covered.
Tom Fojtik, director of the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry recognizes other areas in our state have not been as successful at alleviating hungry in their communities.
“We have learned that our program has the ability to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances to meet a very important and fundamental human need. And we have a core group of volunteers that simply refuse to stop helping those in need. We feel very fortunate.”
~Tom Fojtik, Executive Director of the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry
No one knows how long this pandemic will last and how our daily lives will continue to be impacted. Despite the inevitable changes likely to come, Wisconsin and our local communities are fortunate to have organizations working tirelessly to ensure our basic need for food is met.
If you would like to support alleviating hunger in our community, donations
can be made here to the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry Fund.