Local Views: ECHO, Second Harvest goals differ

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Friday, August 30, 2013

One of ECHO’s programs is Food Services, which relies on local donations. We’ve purchased groceries from Second Harvest since 1996 and began hosting the Second Harvest Mobile Pantry in 2003 to help the organization distribute surplus foods to low-income people in our community. An article in The Gazette about ECHO no longer participating in the mobile pantry due to contract changes needs clarification.

ECHO’s food program doesn’t align with Second Harvest’s revised program purpose: “…to provide immediate food assistance to people at risk of hunger in an area that is without resources, or where the existing resources require additional support. Mobile pantries are designed to be a temporary aid to allow the community enough time to pool resources and develop a more robust and stable solution of support for their neighbors in need.”

Second Harvest also indicated that its goal is to phase out mobile pantries in communities where the need is adequately addressed and distribute this food in areas that need more help.

Second Harvest no longer allowed pre-registration and wanted anyone from any community to get food from its mobile pantry. Pre-registration helped us confirm income eligibility and residency. We did not view the mobile pantry as a place for just anyone to receive free food. Registration also provided each participant with a number, serving the person more efficiently and reducing waiting time.

ECHO was established to serve the Janesville area. We refer people to pantries in their communities and do our best to meet their immediate needs.

We also disagreed with two other Second Harvest policy changes. People could no longer pick up food for someone else, even though both registered and informed us about the pick-up arrangements. This made it difficult to serve those who had difficulties due to transportation, work hours, handicaps, child care, etc. Also, going through the line a second time was no longer allowed, which benefited large families and reduced the potential loss of perishable items.

ECHO usually fills one-week food orders for 40 families per day. When we reach 40 families, we ask the additional families to come back the next day, and if they do not have food for the rest of that day, we pack overnight supplies.

Our volunteers re-stock ECHO’s shelves every day. In July, we filled food orders for 847 families, supplied 141 families with formula and 209 seniors with 35-pound boxes of food from Hunger Task Force, served 155 meals at our monthly community meal and provided vouchers to 466 people to use at the Janesville Farmers Market. ECHO touches the lives of every low-income person in this area! We served an unduplicated count of 3,454 households (about 12,000 people) in 2012, and needs keep increasing.

ECHO is a grass-roots charity, not part of another organization. ECHO’s board, staff and volunteers care about the needs of everyone, and we are accountable for the donations that donors give us. Check our website or call us if you have questions. Better yet, come and take a tour!

Karen Lisser is executive director of ECHO, or Everyone Cooperating to Help Others, a church-sponsored charity at 65 S. High St., Janesville; phone 608-754-5333.

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