Yule Feed Families collected $2,200 in cash - a great first-week launch of the charitable holiday drive for the Oconomowoc Food Pantry.

The food drive to help the five local food pantries is entering its 26th year with an ambitious goal of surpassing the total giving mark set in 2014.

In Oconomowoc, 560 grocery items and $4,554 were collected last year for the local food pantry, surpassing the previous year’s figures.

The generous donations of last week hopefully will set the momentum to surpass last year's giving.

Since 1997, more than $100,000 has been raised for the Oconomowoc Food Pantry.

Last week, an Oconomowoc resident donated $2,000 to the pantry through Yule Feed. The donor asked to remain anonymous. Another $200 was donated by Carrol and Gary Kotter of Oconomowoc

Last year, the food drive, sponsored by the Lake Country Reporter and Lake Country Rotary Club, raised $63,028 and collected 205 grocery items for the Hartland, Pewaukee, North Lake, Kettle Moraine and St. Vincent de Paul-Hartland food pantries. That total fell shy of the mark set in 2014 when $72,452 and 408 grocery items were gathered.

Oconomowoc Food Pantry volunteer coordinator Amy Hayes says residents here are generous, especially during the holidays when demand by the needy for food is up.

The pantry daily is now serving more than 20 families, she said.

Groceries and monetary donations can be taken to Waukesha State Bank in Oconomowoc, 1227 Corporate Center Drive. Checks can also be mailed to the Lake Country Publications office, 1010 Richards Road, Hartland, WI 53029. Checks can be made out to the pantry of your choice or to the tax-deductible Lake Country Foundation, which partners with Rotary. Do not make out checks to Yule Feed Families or the Lake Country Reporter.

The goal to surpass previous efforts is paramount.

“It’s a big reach, but one I am optimistic that we can reach. With the Great Recession receding and the economy growing stronger, I am hopeful that more people will find the opportunity to give back out of a spirit of generosity and helping their neighbors. Lake Country residents have always overwhelmed us with their holiday spirit. We are so fortunate to live in an area where people care so much about each other,” said Scott Peterson, editor-in-chief for the Lake Country Reporter and a Rotarian.

Peterson and fellow Rotarian Gary Jasiek, former publisher of the Reporter, conceived of a matching-style challenge drive in 1990 as a way to give back to the community. Peterson has been running the Yule Feed campaign ever since and it has raised $665,818.65 and 44,147 in grocery donations over that time. It has also expanded to other papers in the Lake Country Publications constellation, raising a total of $836,272.74 and 51,235 over that time period across Waukesha County.

How the drive works is simple. Donations that come to Yule Feed Families will be matched by both the club and the newspaper at the rate of 40 cents for every grocery item donated and 70 cents for each $1 of monetary contribution. Rotary and the Reporter each have a $2,000 cap on that giving. At the end of the drive, which ends at 5 p.m. Dec. 21, all community donations of cash and checks are combined with the Rotary and Reporter donations and divided among the Hartland, North Lake, Pewaukee and Kettle Moraine pantries. St. Vincent de Paul in Hartland is the recipient of all food and other grocery donations.

“We are grateful to Waukesha State Bank, and manager Angela Mierzwinski for agreeing again to be our primary drop off location for this drive. They do a lot of the work behind the scenes to make this drive possible,” said Peterson.

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