Pantry’s cupboards nearly bare

Economic conditions that have curbed donations while increasing the need for assistance have left Port organization scrambling for food ahead of holidays

PORT FOOD PANTRY Executive Director Pat Kozak, who stood among nearly empty shelves this week, points to the struggling economy as one of the main reasons donations to the pantry have declined significantly during the past six months and the number of people seeking help has increased. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

The Port Food Pantry is finding itself in an unusual situation this year — instead of shelves filled with a bounty of foods, the cupboard is almost bare.

That’s because not only is the pantry getting fewer donations, the number of families seeking help is increasing, Executive Director Pat Kozak said.

“This is the shortest we’ve ever been,” she said. “We used to have many hundreds of each item on our shelves. Now we don’t even have 100 of each item.

“We used to have a three to four-month supply of food. Now we’re buying food every week because we don’t have enough.

“We had to buy 800 cans (of food) for next week.”

The reasons, Kozak said, are likely twofold — the economy and rising inflation make it more difficult for people to make donations and increase the number of people in need, and people are facing more appeals for donations, particularly to help people in war-torn Ukraine.

“I think it’s a sign of the times,” she said. “It’s harder for people today. I can’t believe how much a bag of groceries costs.”

There are donation bins at 13 churches throughout Ozaukee County, she said, as well as at businesses in and around Port Washington.

The Port Food Pantry distributes roughly 3,500 pounds of food each week, Kozak said, adding that its client list has increased from 60 families a year ago to 100 today.

The pantry also delivers food to about 25 homebound people each week, she said.

Each person gets about a dozen nonperishable food items as well as meat, cheese, eggs, butter, bread, fresh fruits and vegetables.

Once a month, they also get such staples as laundry and dish detergent, Kozak said.

The Food Pantry is not only seeing a decrease in food donations but cash gifts as well, she said.

And while donations often pick up around the holidays, Kozak is concerned about those as well.

“I worry we’re not going to get as much as we usually do,” she said, although people tend to be more generous at that time of year.

The Food Pantry runs other programs, providing school supplies, gym shoes, birthday gifts and holiday gifts, but Kozak said the top priority is the weekly food program.

“That comes first,” she said.

Kozak noted that the Food Pantry has a dedicated building fund set up so it can construct a new home in the future, but she stressed those funds are collected separately from money donated for food.

Like the Port Food Pantry, Family Sharing’s food pantry in Grafton is also finding itself in need of donations and hoping the community will help meet the need, either by increasing donations or organizing food drives.

Julie Pahnke, outreach manager at Family Sharing, said it’s not necessarily because they have received fewer donations, it’s that the agency began three new programs in March. Since then, the pantry’s seen a 165% increase, serving about 650 households.

“Because of that, we have an increased need for food, especially staple items,” she said. “There are items we never had to buy before — we never had to buy tomato sauce before.”

Among the new programs are a mobile food pantry, senior delivery program.

“That has really grown,” Pahnke said, noting 100 to 125 seniors are served each month.

Family Sharing has also started a backpack program that provides students with food for the weekend.

The backpack program has grown significantly, she said, noting that two weeks ago Family Sharing served 50 students and last week it served 105.

“More people are struggling,” she said. “They’re struggling so much more.”

In the past, Pahnke said, there’s been a large food drive that helped keep the shelves stocked, but because of the pandemic it hasn’t been held for several years, and they don’t know if it will be held this year.

The Saukville Community Food Pantry isn’t experiencing shortages, Executive Director Mark Gierach said.

“We’re doing OK. There’s really no shortage of food out there,” he said, adding his agency works with several programs to  ensure an adequate supply of food. “You need to have multiple sources of food to make this all work.”

 

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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