Earlier this year, many of our neighbors in need got a notice signaling the end of temporary increases in federal food stamps benefits that started during the pandemic: Your food budget is about to be cut, potentially by hundreds of dollars a month. Here are some tips on how you can manage. You can’t appeal.
The cuts come at a time when groceries are costing up to 10 percent more than they did last year. “Money is tight,” said Samantha, a mother of five and regular guest at the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry. “Food, gas, rent…well just about everything is more expensive right now. The pantry is helping us make ends meet.”
Samantha is not alone. “Our usage peaked in November 2022 at 2,035 families served,” shared Ryan Rasmussen, executive director of the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry. “And while numbers have come down a bit since then, our number of first-time visitors is higher than ever. In 2022, we were seeing 50-80 new families a month. In 2023, we’ve already registered 209 new families just in January and February.”
To help rescue more food and get it into the homes of families facing hunger, nine area pantries including the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry are partnering with local retailers through Feeding America of Eastern Wisconsin’s Direct Connect Program. Direct Connect allows pantries to get food directly from partnering stores like Walmart, Pick ‘n Save, Aldi, Kwik Trip, and Target.
“Historically, the movement of food was retail to food bank to pantry and now we are focusing on retail to pantry. This has increased the amount of perishable items available through the food pantry system,” said Patti Habeck, CEO and president of Feeding America of Eastern Wisconsin, which operates food banks in Appleton and Milwaukee.
A $54,000 grant from your Community Foundation helped Feeding America hire a retail sourcing assistant to support and grow the number of Direct Connect partnerships between retailers and member pantries.
“Direct Connect allows us to go to nearby retailers to collect whatever they have available. Right now, that’s a variety of produce, bakery, meat, and shelf-stable foods,” said Rasmussen.
The goal of the program is not only to provide food to people in the community but also to provide healthy food that allows for a nutritious diet. Making sure perishable items like fruit and vegetables make it to the pantries quickly is an important part of the Direct Connect Program.