Bay View Food Pantries Need Donations And Volunteers

February 2, 2018

Sheila Julson

In the United States, hunger is not caused by famine or food shortages. Poverty
creates hunger here.

Our supermarkets are lined with a welter of choices, and there are scores of restaurants offering everything from fast food tacos and burgers to menus drawn from the cuisines found around the world.

Yet many Americans go hungry.

According to a report by the United States Department of Agriculture, 12.3 percent (15.6 million) of U.S. households were “food insecure” at sometime in 2016. Food insecurity means not enough food required “for an active, healthy life for all household members.” Food insecurity is caused when a household doesn’t have enough money or other resources for food.

Whether it’s a head of household who lost a job, or a senior living solely on Social Security, a single parent working full-time at a low-wage job, or a homeless individual, many would go hungry in the Bay View area if not for the food pantries and soup kitchens.

Four Bay View organizations that provide food for low-income and homeless persons report they face cyclical demand. They seem to teeter between having or not having sufficient food supplies and volunteers to meet demand.

Bay View Community Center

During an early January interview, Linda Nieft, president and CEO of the Bay View Community Center (BVCC), said its food pantry possessed enough food to meet demand until the end of the month, as people are very generous with donations between Thanksgiving and Christmas. “The food we have on hand now will probably last another three to four weeks, but then we’ll have a dip again,” she said. It goes the way the economy goes. For example, a few years ago when gas reached over $4 per gallon, we had a lot of people come in, and we were short on food all the time.”

Linda Nieft —Photo Jennifer Kresse

BVCC keeps statistics on a monthly basis. Nieft estimates the total number of people it currently serves to be 190 to 200 people per month, an increase over last year at this time.” The numbers were higher in August, September, October, and November (2017) than the same months in 2016.  December was about the same (in 2017) as 2016,” she said.

Its pantry serves residents of the 53207 and 53221 zip codes, encompassing Bay View and the Garden District. The pantry also serves as a backup for 53235 (St. Francis) and 53215 (the near South Side). Most people who use the BVCC food pantry live in the 53207 zip code area.

Nieft said some families with children use the pantry. Twenty-five percent of the patrons are older adults living solely on Social Security benefits. “That group of people comes monthly, and we encourage them to come and continue to come as long as they need to,” she said. “They’re not in an emergency situation, but the food pantry acts as more of a supplement to what they can afford to purchase. I hear older adults tell us they are eating better and feel better after coming here.”

In order to access BVCC’s pantry, the head of household needs to show their photo identification. “The person coming in needs to show their photo ID, and they need to bring some form of ID for the rest of the members of the household. It does not need to be a photo ID; it can be their child’s last report card, a school ID, medical card, etc.,” she said.

Participants are taken to a private office to complete an intake form and answer general questions about monthly income; however, Nieft noted they don’t have a strict income limit as to who can use the pantry.

Donations by members of the community are the sole source of BVCC’s pantry provisions. Some area businesses and organizations hold food drives. Preferred are donations of tuna and other canned proteins, beans, canned fruit, cereal, and peanut butter. Foods that accommodate those with dietary restrictions, such as low-sodium and gluten-free products, are also needed since those can be expensive for people on tight budgets. “And one of the hardest things for us to get is diabetic items, like sugar-free or natural jellies,” she said.

BVCC’s food pantry was formed in 1982. At that time, Bay View was still factory-oriented, but as area giants like International Harvester (later J.I. Case), Rexnord, and Louis Allis began laying-off employees or shutting down during the late 1970s to early 1980s, area churches were deluged with people who needed assistance. Those churches turned to BVCC for help.

BVCC food pantry hours are Tuesdays from 4 to 6pm, and Wednesdays and Fridays from 2:30 to 5:15pm. Volunteers are needed for the Tuesday shift to help sort and pack food and organize the pantry. Those interested in volunteering can contact Nieft at 414-482-1000.

Unity Lutheran Church 

Unity Lutheran Church operates a soup kitchen and food pantry every Wednesday at 5:30pm. Scott Koral is the director of outreach and faith formation at Unity. The food pantry falls within his purview. The church has operated a soup kitchen for 40 years and a food pantry since the early 1980s. From October through December 2017, Koral said Unity served a total of about 200 people at their soup kitchen, which he believes is an increase from previous months.

Like Nieft, Koral said that Unity’s pantry supplies wax and wane. “There are times when we do have enough, and times when we don’t,” he said. “I think the great thing about our food pantry is for most of 2017 and into this year, we’ve had an increase in food donations. Just today we had a person in the area drop off four boxes of cereal.”

Koral credits lots of hands for making their food pantry a success, including donations from Feeding America, donations from individuals, and food provided by other churches. Koral also said they need proteins, which include beans, nuts, and nut butters, as well as canned meat like tuna and chicken. Individuals who wish to donate nonperishable foods to Unity may do so directly at the church Monday through Thursdays from 9am to 2pm.

Steve Rowley works with Unity Lutheran Church’s Soup Pantry program. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Homeless and low-income people use Unity’s soup kitchen and food pantry, Koral said, and they don’t ask for personal information nor discriminate regarding income requirements or residency. In keeping with Jesus’ teachings, anyone who needs help is served.

“I can’t say exactly who is served, because among all our all ministries, whether it’s the soup kitchen, the food pantry, the Strong Baby Sanctuary, or free clothing, through all of them collectively we helped over 10,000 people throughout the last calendar year,” he said. “We don’t keep track of where they’re from. To us, it doesn’t matter. The biggest thing is that if they need help, we want to help them.”

St. Veronica’s Congregation

Paul Michael has been director of St. Veronica’s food pantry since it launched in 2000. The pantry is open every Wednesday from 4 to 6pm, and the first and third Saturday of each month from 9 to 11am. Breakfast is served on Saturday.

Michael said their yearly statistics show that the numbers served at St. Veronica’s food pantry was actually down about 10 percent from 2016 to 2017. In 2016, the pantry served 4,967 people, and in 2017, it served 4,597. Of those, 1,335 were children. Approximately 25 percent of adults were senior citizens. “If you’re a senior living on just Social Security and living by yourself, it is very difficult,” Michael said. “Almost all seniors we serve are living alone.”

Like other food pantries, St. Veronica’s sees higher user totals during November and December. November 2017 was its busiest month, with 571 people served. That number is slightly down from the number of people served inNovember 2016, at 607. Michael sees that as a sign that the economy may be stronger this year, but he’s concerned about changes in state benefits.

“There has been significant diminishing support for FoodShare benefits in the state of Wisconsin,” he said. “Many people that come in only get $16 in FoodShare benefits per month, based on the government definition of poverty. Lack of food share support is creating a crisis for people.”

St. Veronica’s food pantry receives food from the Hunger Task Force, Feeding America, parishioner donations, and money from the church to buy food. “We’re a very generous community at St. Veronica’s,” Michael said. A pool of 50 volunteers operates the pantry.

In January, Kohl’s announced it would donate $750,000 to the Hunger Task Force to expand its MyPlate initiative, a healthy eating guide influenced by the United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate food model. Under the Obama administration, MyPlate was introduced to simplify the former food pyramid. The MyPlate initiative, which was successfully implemented in six Hunger Task Force network food pantries this past year, encourages people to be conscious of how their food donations impact healthy eating. St. Veronica’s is implementing the MyPlate program at the pantry, and they will ask for donations that include low-sodium and healthier items to distribute. Michael said that in January, representatives from Hunger Task Force educated St. Veronica’s volunteers about the MyPlate program.

“We’re not the food police, so we’re not trying to constrain anybody’s diet, but we want to encourage people to eat healthy.” Michael said.

In addition to low-sodium items, specifically soup, the pantry needs more gluten-free foods, canned proteins like tuna, salmon, and chicken, and whole grain cereals. Michael said the food pantry provisions are currently tight, as increased attendance during November and December depleted their budget and supplies. Michael expects the demand to be lower over the next couple of months before slowly climbing again. “It’s a cyclical demand,” he noted.

St. Veronica’s food pantry serves 53207, and participants are asked to bring a photo ID and a piece of mail. Those who wish to donate may drop off items at the parish office any weekday (office is closed from noon to 1pm) or Sundays at the church.

Food Insecurity by Household Characteristics

The prevalence of food insecurity varied considerably among household types. Rates of food insecurity were higher than the national average (12.3 percent) for the following groups:

All households with children (16.5 percent),

Households with children under age 6 (16.6 percent),

Households with children headed by a single woman (31.6 percent),

Households with children headed by a single man (21.7 percent),

Women living alone (13.9 percent),

Men living alone (14.3 percent),

Black, non-Hispanic households (22.5 percent),

Hispanic households (18.5 percent), and

Low-income households with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty threshold (31.6 percent; the Federal poverty line was $24,339 for a family of four in 2016).

How Many People Lived in Food-Insecure Households?

In 2016:

41.2 million people lived in food-insecure households.

10.8 million adults lived in households with very low food security.

6.5 million children lived in food-insecure households in which children, along with adults, were food insecure.

703,000 children (1.0 percent of the Nation’s children) lived in households in which one or more child experienced very low food security.

Source: United States Department of Agriculture

Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church

Erin Dentice, who works at Tippecanoe Presbyterian, spoke on behalf of Pastor Karen Hagen to discuss its program, Divine Intervention Ministry to the Homeless. Although Tippecanoe doesn’t have a food pantry or food bank where people come in and receive nonperishable goods to take home, their Divine Intervention Ministry provides meals and other assistance to the homeless. The church also maintains a garden where they grow fresh food that they donate to area food banks.

“Our Divine Intervention Ministry to the Homeless program includes an overnight emergency warming room, open every night from December through March,” Dentice said. “The Sharing Our Supper (SOS) program is for guests who stay with us in the warming room.”

Although Dentice is not a member of the church, she said she got involved after seeing its outreach work. “The programs are amazing. It is a great experience to help! The energy at Tippecanoe really is so kind, warm and inviting. It is lovely to join the team of volunteers,” she said

Church and community volunteers and families prepare SOS meals at home and bring them to the warming center.

“The folks providing the meal take care of the expenses related to the meal,” Dentice said. “Often times, church groups will provide meals via a team so that the expense does not fall on just one family, or a family will tag team with friends.”

The meals are served family-style. There’s also a self-serve breakfast for guests so they can eat before they leave, and the patrons are given snacks to take with them when they leave to go back out into the community.

Volunteer hosts receive training to register guests at the overnight warming room, help them get settled, and keep an eye on things. Two volunteer hosts split a shift during the night so they aren’t giving up an entire night’s sleep.

Dentice said the warming room welcomes 20 to 25 guests per night, which is the maximum number of people they can accommodate comfortably. She said that number has been fairly consistent since she began working at the church a year and a half ago. It’s uncertain where all the guests are from, but Dentice believes some might be from the Bay View community. They receive referrals the (dial) 211 social services hotline, a free service that helps people find information about a variety of nonemergency family, financial, health, and social service issues.

Dentice’s family has often volunteered as warming room hosts and the experience has been greatly rewarding. Her family enjoys socializing with the guests and getting to know them.

Other services under the Divine Intervention umbrella include the Just Good Food gardens consisting of 38 organic raised-bed gardens and a rooftop garden, located on a porch area above the office. The gardens yield a bounty of cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, eggplant, herbs, and other produce. Homeless people who stay in the warming room serve as garden interns and tend the gardens during the summer. “It’s a paid internship that helps bridge the gap as they search for employment,” Dentice said.

Harvested fresh food is donated to area food pantries, including Bay View Community Center, Dentice said. Approximately 2,000 pounds of food were harvested from the gardens this past summer. Tippecanoe Presbyterian also has a garden coordinator who leads healthy cooking classes at BVCC.

Joe Snyder, Kirstin Larson, Ailie Snyder, Lauren Larson, and Annette Vander Heyden prepare a hot dinner at Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church. Lexie Snyder barely visible, is standing to the right of Lauren Larson. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Divine Intervention participates in Larry Under the Bridge, a program that provides bagged meals on Sundays and Mondays to homeless people camped out under bridges. They also operate Project Home Mission, which provides home furnishings for their guests who find housing.

Dentice said they always need volunteers. “We can always use volunteer hosts for the warming room, SOS meal providers, Larry Under the Bridge meal providers/drivers, and garden volunteers, too!” she said.

Those who wish to volunteer may contact the church at 414-481-4680.

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