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Oconomowoc Food Pantry celebrates with open house

Celebrating five years at its new location

July 27, 2011

The Oconomowoc Food Pantry will host an open house from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, July 31, to celebrate its fifth anniversary at its current location and to thank the community for its ongoing support. Food pantry volunteers will be on hand to give tours of the facility, and cake and punch will also be served.

"The last five years have been such a wonderful experience. The community has been so supportive of us, and we want to celebrate that generosity and the relationships we have made over the years," said Lois Jackson.

Humble beginnings

When Lois and a handful of community members from area churches and service clubs joined forces to establish a food pantry for local people in need more than 30 years ago their efforts, at first, weren't taken very seriously.

"People thought the idea of a food pantry in Oconomowoc was ridiculous. They said there wasn't a need in this area, and no would use it," reminisced Lois.

The Oconomowoc Food Pantry opened in May 1981 in the Smith House owned by First Congregational United Church of Christ on South Street, where the Oconomowoc Public Library now stands.

The food pantry quickly outgrew that space and moved into a 700-square-foot storage room in the LaBelle Beverage building at West Wisconsin Avenue and Concord Road. "We stayed at that location for 20 years because we couldn't afford anything else," said Lois. "There were no windows and no air conditioning. In the winter, snow would blow through the cinderblocks."

Fifteen years ago, Lois' husband Bill retired from his full-time job as a grocery store equipment sales manager. "Bill needed something to do. He had a lot of knowledge and experience about how a grocery store should be organized, so he helped us lay out the pantry. Now he is at there every day - accepting and stocking donations and also going to the store to buy food," she said.

"Lois thought it would be a good idea for me to get involved with the food pantry, and she was right," added Bill, laughing. "I really enjoy it, and I really feel like I am accomplishing something. It's a good feeling to know you are helping the community out."

Community support

On July 31, 2006 volunteers from the Oconomowoc Food Pantry moved the nonprofit organization's store from a small, windowless room to a bigger, brighter location next to the new St. Vincent de Paul Society store on Brown Street.

""We are just so grateful for our partnership with St. Vincent's," said Lois. "They have been so good to us."

It wasn't long before word got out about the new space for the food pantry. Donations and offers to help set up the new location came pouring in.

Growing needs

Since the move to the food pantry's present location, the usage by Oconomowoc's families in need has continued to increase. The highest number of households served in any one month was 395 in November 2010, which included 712 adults, 502 children and 33 new families. Since the first of the year, the pantry continues to add more than 25 new households every month.

The Oconomowoc Food Pantry has 75 volunteers and no paid staff. The nonprofit organization receives no local, state or federal aid and relies on the generosity of community members, churches, service clubs and organizations.

The Oconomowoc Food Pantry is at W359 N5848 Brown St., Suite B, next to the St. Vincent de Paul Society store. Call (262) 567-7054 for hours and information.

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