Local food pantries provide lifeline
"There are more people now who have had their hours of work cut down or they're out of work completely," explained Bill Jackson, who runs the Oconomowoc Food Pantry with his wife, Lois. "If it was a family where two were working, one of them was laid off - but their expenses were based on two people working. They're immediately behind the eight-ball, through no fault of their own."
Their pantry serves an average of more than 300 families every month, which equates to about 1,000 people. November and December are the months of highest need, when the pantry serves as many as 400 families.
Jackson said the number of families seeking assistance over the past several years has increased by about 6 percent every year. His estimate sounded a similar tune to what other area food pantries have seen in recent years.
Joy Vilter of the Hartland Food Pantry said her pantry regularly serves 100 families twice a month.
"It's doubled in the last five years," she said. "We're up a little this year, but we went up so much the last couple."
In Pewaukee, the need is just as great. From January through October 2012, the Pewaukee Food Pantry gave out 1,748 boxes of food. "This is almost 1,000 more food boxes than we gave out in 2007," co-coordinator Karen Semrad wrote in an email.
"Alarming is the number of new families that found it necessary to seek help to feed their families in the past couple of years. We had 173 new families come to us since Jan(uary) of 2011," she wrote.
Karen Tredwell, the executive director of the Food Pantry of Waukesha County, said the facility registered and served more than 16,600 different people in the last two years. The pantry serves more than 6,400 people each month.
Tredwell explained, "We are seeing more people now who never sought any sort of assistance at all. They're people who, in many cases, were donors previously. They either donated food through their congregations or food drives, or they have provided monetary donations on occasion. Now because of the economic hits they've taken, they are actually in a position where they are seeking help. While some of those economic hits may have happened earlier in the downturn, they've depleted savings."
Each food pantry has its own criteria for whom it will serve. Usually those criteria are based on income and personal circumstances, and most accept people on a case-by-case basis.
But Tredwell thinks there is a misconception about the type of people receiving help at food pantries. While the homeless are often served, much of the clientele comes from the ranks of the working poor, those who have had their hours cut or those who have no health insurance.
"The newer people coming to us tend to be individuals who are families who have a head of household who has been a professional or is a professional but may have had a decrease in the number of hours or a complete layoff," Tredwell said.
She also noted that she has seen an increase in the number of single people who have no dependents and a low income now seeking assistance. Many of those people do not qualify for other government benefits because they have no children.
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