Home Financial Record Wisconsin pantries are anticipating record demand for Thanksgiving. They will need record donations to meet them.

Wisconsin pantries are anticipating record demand for Thanksgiving. They will need record donations to meet them.

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Nearly three years into the pandemic, high grocery prices are driving thousands of Wisconsin families to their local pantries for the first time.

You probably noticed the price of just about everything – from a carton of eggs to a gallon of gasoline – is significantly higher than this time last year. Costs are rising an average of 8%, according to the consumer price index, a 40-year high.

For many families, rising food prices are the first thing they notice. In 2020, Americans spent 9% of their income on food, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Every day more and more families are realizing that they simply can’t afford it anymore. Many are using pantries for the very first time.

Pantries in Wisconsin are still often stigmatized, seen as something used by the homeless. Or drug addicts. Or lazy. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

As two of the most food-focused months of the year approach, we caught up with the executive director of Feeding Wisconsin to find out who’s really using them, what they need, and how you can help them.

Christina Lorey, UpNorthNews Editor: What the need for food looks like right now in Wisconsin compared to the start of the pandemic [spring 2020]?

Stephanie Jong Dorfman, Executive Director of Feeding Wisconsin: Our network [of local food pantries] again experiencing a spike in COVID demand. We are experiencing a 28-43% increase in visitors, depending on which part of the state you are in.

Why are the numbers so high?

COVID-era policies and programs worked! However, we are beginning to see that food hardship is on the rise again, in part because these programs and policies are being phased out. When federal or state emergency public health orders end, Wisconsin residents will lose approximately $71,000,000 per month in emergency allowances (this number is increasing).

Can you explain what food insecurity is?

Food insecurity is the The USDA measure lack of access to enough food for an active and healthy life for all household members. Food insecure households are not necessarily food insecure everything time. Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to compromise between important basic needs, such as paying for housing or medical expenses, and purchasing nutritionally adequate food.

How much of a problem was food insecurity before the pandemic?

In 2019, Feeding America estimated that more than 530,000 Wisconsin residents, or 9% of the population, were food insecure. That included nearly 184,000, or 14.5%, of Wisconsin children. We also know that food insecurity has a disproportionate impact on different communities:

  • 27% of black Wisconsin residents have experienced food insecurity
  • 21% of Latino residents in Wisconsin have experienced food insecurity
  • 7% of white Wisconsin residents have experienced food insecurity

Food security for white Wisconsinites has actually improved during the pandemic — to 5%. The other groups remain the same.

Let’s talk about your organization. How many people does Feeding Wisconsin help?

I don’t have an up to date estimate as we are currently pulling data for the past year. I can share that Feeding Wisconsin operates the six regional Feeding America-affiliated food banks in the state that provide food to nearly 1,000 local food programs in all 72 counties. Together, the Feeding Wisconsin Network provided 86 million pounds of food to Wisconsinans in every corner of our state in 2021, a 75% increase from 2019.

Is there a “busiest time of year” for food pantries in Wisconsin?

In a time that is not affected by a pandemic or other reasons fueled by economic recession, the busiest times are often holidays and non-school times – when families may have to try harder to put food on their tables and have more competing financial obligations than usual. Weekends, summer and vacations usually place an additional financial burden on families.

If people are able to help, what do you think are the top five items they can bring into a pantry?

  • Peanut Butter
  • Canned protein (beans, chicken, tuna)
  • Canned vegetables and fruits low in sodium and sugar
  • Pasta
  • Cereals with low sugar content

What’s better: giving time, food or money?

All the foregoing! Our food banks rely on food, funds, and friends.

Let’s discuss each of them. What do volunteers do do and when do you need it the most?

Food banks rely on the strength of volunteers to sort, repack and distribute food. Food banks and community food distribution partners need volunteers year-round, but we often see a lull in volunteering after the winter break.

And what about food and money?

Donating food is always helpful, but donating money allows food banks to buy exactly the food their communities demand. The funds help provide fresh, nutritious foods like fresh produce, dairy, and protein that are more difficult for individuals to donate. We can also purchase items more efficiently on a large scale [so your donation stretches farther].

What can $5 cover?

Our food banks estimate that $1 can sustain approximately 3 meals. So $5 supports 15 meals, $20 supports 60 meals, and $50 supports 150 meals.

What do you think is still the biggest misconception about people who get help from a pantry?

They’re not like us. Unfortunately, the pandemic has shed light on the experience of normalizing food insecurity. People looking for pantry resources, nutritional benefits, or other resources are our friends, family, and neighbors. Everyone needs help from time to time, and everyone deserves support to get their basic needs met.

Click here to get involved with Feeding Wisconsin.

Click here to find a pantry near you and GET HELP today.

Feeding Wisconsin’s mission is to support and empower food banks, partners and the general public in all 72 counties to end hunger, improve health and strengthen local communities. Through our food banks and pantries, we ensure everyone has access to the food and benefits they need to work, learn, play and live a healthy life.