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ECHO ends partnership with Second Harvest mobile pantry

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Shelly Birkelo
August 14, 2013

JANESVILLE—After a disagreement on the philosophy of feeding the poor ended a years-long relationship between Second Harvest Foodbank and ECHO, the foodbank will partner with a Janesville church to provide food to anybody who shows up.

“We are pleased and fortunate that our partnership with First Lutheran Church will bring food assistance to those struggling with hunger in Rock County and beyond, and to the working poor, who are perhaps too busy to attend any pantry during the day,” said Dan Stein, Second Harvest president and CEO.

The mobile pantry distributes nonperishable groceries and perishable foods “to provide immediate food assistance to people at risk of hunger in an area where the existing resources require additional support,” Stein said.

Karen Lisser, executive director of ECHO, said the Janesville area has plenty food resources.

“ECHO is the largest of eight food pantries in Janesville and is a robust and stable pantry. It is open weekdays as well as through ECHO's voucher program with the Janesville police, Rock County Sheriff's Office and crisis intervention to cover the hours we are closed,” she wrote in the charity's summer newsletter.

Second Harvest, Lisser said, is “helping fill a need that's already being met.”

First Lutheran Administrative Pastor Naomi Garber said the foodbank's mobile pantry isn't just for people who have a persistent, demonstrated need.

“It crosses all generations of people who perhaps get into binds and don't have enough money for food, medicine and rent or enough money for paying monthly bills and feeding their children,” she said.

Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin is a Madison-based nonprofit hunger relief organization.

ECHO, Everybody Cooperating to Help Others, is a non-profit charity organization that draws support from area churches and serves low-income individuals and families in the Janesville area.

Garber approached Second Harvest after hearing one of its staff members talk about the Second Harvest mobile food pantries and after learning one of the Janesville churches was no longer able to be a host site.

Second Harvest staff visited First Lutheran and determined “it was a good fit for us and who we are here at First Lutheran,” Garber said.

First Lutheran will help with the mobile pantry distribution by providing volunteers plus serve as a site where those facing hunger can also learn and network about other hunger-relief programs such as Food Share Wisconsin, Stein said.

POLICY DIFFERENCES

ECHO began partnering with Second Harvest about a decade ago. When it came time this year to sign a new agreement, ECHO staff and board members could not agree with Second Harvest's policy change to no longer require advance registration at it's mobile pantry and to allow anyone from any community to get food from the mobile pantry.

“If we don't preregister mobile pantry recipients as ECHO clients, we won't know their needs, plus ECHO was established to meet the need in the Janesville area and not neighboring cities, counties or neighboring Illinois. Our donors want to know what they donate stays in the community,” Lisser said.

ECHO's board voted unanimously in June not to sign a new agreement, ending its participation with Second Harvest.

Stein said the mobile pantry at First Lutheran is open to anyone.

“We do not ask if they're in need. We assume if they're standing in line for an hour or two in front of everybody that they have that need. So we will serve anybody that comes,” he said.

Garber said it doesn't matter where recipients live.

“If they come, we will serve them. It's important to our members that we reach all people,” she said.

While Second Harvest partnered with ECHO, it provided between 50 and 75 pounds of food to more than 300 food-insecure families every time the monthly mobile pantry was in town, Stein said.

Rock County has the highest food-insecure rates of the 16 counties Second Harvest serves, Stein said, citing Feed America estimates.

“It was clear to us that this mobile pantry was filling a need in the community and that we needed to find another local partner to replace ECHO's long-standing partnership,” he said.

Lisser said respondents to an ECHO survey last fall of clients, agencies, donors and community members indicated ECHO has a strong food pantry that meets the food needs in the community in addition to providing other services from housing and lodging to transportation.

ECHO clients were notified during the June 26 mobile pantry that ECHO would no longer be hosting a mobile pantry as of July 1 and will “get along just fine without it,” said Susan, an ECHO client board member.

First Lutheran is among 25 ECHO member churches and has two people on the ECHO board of directors.

“We have been active with ECHO and will continue to financially support it and with gifts in kind. That won't change,” Garber said.


This article was revised Aug. 28, 2013, to reflect the following correction:

ECHO CLIENT MADE STATEMENT

A quotation in an earlier version of this article was attributed to the wrong person.

It was Susan, an ECHO client board member, who said ECHO clients will “get along just fine without it,” referring to the monthly mobile pantry ECHO hosted until June 26.



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