Janesville area food pantries take bite out of hunger

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October 11, 2009
— It’s typical for clients to form a long line on the sidewalk in front of ECHO, 65 S. High St., at least 90 minutes before the charity opens its doors to provide services.

That’s because the faith community-sponsored nonprofit, which serves low-income people in the Janesville area, can only fill 40 grocery orders a day.

They don’t want to be person 41 or they’ll have to come back the next day, said Karen Lisser, executive director.

Local food pantries continue to take a bite out of hunger for those in need.

But as demand grows, pantry shelves can be full one day and bare the next.

Earlier this week, many of ECHO’s clients had walked in cold rain to get food. Drenched from her trek there, a middle-aged woman stood in the lobby waiting to be served as she held on to her wheeled cart.

Nearby, Raelene King, 48, Janesville, was picking up groceries for her family of three. After paying all the monthly bills, there wasn’t enough money left from King’s and her husband’s disability checks to make it through.

“Without ECHO, we would have a really tough time,” she said.

Rodney Patnoe, 47, Janesville, echoed those sentiments.

“Some months I don’t know what I’d do without ECHO,” said the self-employed musician and father of one, who doesn’t have a day job and taps into ECHO services for help with food and rent as needed.

King and Patnoe are only two of 19,629 people and 6,386 families who have sought grocery help from ECHO during the first nine months of this year.

That’s a 4 percent increase in the number of people who received groceries during the same time last year, Lisser said.

The statistics, however, only report the number of people served. They don’t reflect the need, Lisser said.

ECHO must turn people away when it reaches 40 grocery orders in a morning. When that happens, five to 10 families can be turned away, she said.

“We didn’t turn any away this week yet, but typically we reach 40 orders one to three times per week. We’ve have had many more times in 2009 when we had to cut off food orders at 40,” Lisser said.

And the worst for this community is possibly yet to come.

“There aren’t jobs developing fast enough for people to apply for,” Lisser said.

Tami Prochazka, social services coordinator at the local Salvation Army, a church and social services agency, agreed:

“If their unemployment has run out, now they can’t make do. Maybe someone else in the house is not finding a job or their temporary job has ended and they can’t get another. People who made it work without the pantry before can’t anymore,” she said.

Before June, the Salvation Army was ordering food up to twice a year when its biggest order was for 10,000 pounds. Now orders are placed at least every month, and it’s still not enough to keep food stocked.

“The shelves in the pantry are pretty bare. We’re pretty well depleted even after receiving a Second Harvest order two weeks ago,’’ Prochazka said.

The Salvation Army filled 1,259 more grocery orders during its most recent fiscal year—Oct. 1, 2008, through Sep. 30, 2009—than it did just the year before. And its average number of grocery orders filled each day increased to 17 this year compared to 12 last year, she said.

There’s no doubt need for food pantry services will continue to grow due to the ongoing struggling economy, Lisser and Prochazka agreed.

The question is whether they will be able to keep up with demand, they said.

Requests for all of ECHO’s services were up 47 percent in 2008 because of flooding and the poor economy. And with another quarter to go yet in 2009, demand for all of ECHO’s services is already up 19 percent on top of the huge increase last year, Lisser said.

“The good news is we haven’t had to shut down services yet this year due to community donations,’’ she said.

At the Salvation Army, current donations also have been helping keep up with demand.

“But with job losses and so many employers being affected by the down economy, we are concerned about the upcoming Christmas fundraising season,’’ Capt. Kirk Schuetz told Prochazka.

“Our bell ringing web site,” she said, “is being established now.’’

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