Janesville37.4°

St. John Vianney marks anniversary for mobile food pantry

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Dan Plutchak
September 9, 2010
— Lois isn’t quite sure what she’d do without the groceries she gets from the mobile food pantry that makes a monthly stop at St. John Vianney Parish in Janesville.

What Lois does know is that the food distribution makes a big difference in stretching her food budget on her fixed income.


“I think it’s really nice that they do this, with so many people being jobless,” she said.


Lois and her sister, Jessie, were getting food for six people — Lois for her and her husband, and Jessie for her husband and two kids.


The two women, who didn’t give their last names, were among about 100 recipients waiting inside the air-conditioned gathering space at St. John’s Aug. 9 for their turn to make their way around tables set up with a wide assortment of food.


The church hosts the mobile food pantry the second Tuesday of each month, and Sept. 14 will mark its one-year anniversary.


The seeds of the project were sown in July 2009 when the parish was contacted by Catholic Charities to see if parish members would be willing to staff a distribution site for the mobile food pantry, said Dan Teal, chairman of the steering committee.


Two months later, they were up and running with their first distribution from the mobile pantry operated by Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin and funded through Catholic Charities.


Recipients are referred to the food bank through ECHO, the nonprofit, faith-based charity that serves low-income individuals and families in Janesville.


To receive food, recipients are asked to arrive at the church prior to 3 p.m. on the day of the distribution. They are asked for some general information, such as the number and ages of people in their household, to give Catholic Charities an idea of how many people they are helping.


Second Harvest receives donations from local stores, food distributors and wholesalers of surplus food, or food that is close to the use-by date that otherwise would go to waste.


Although steering committee members, including Teal, John Janes, Julie Pospeschil, Kathryn Houseman and Jeanne Vogt, are responsible for organizing the monthly distributions, parish members are the key to a smooth-running operation.


“It’s not the committee, but the parish members, that make it run,” Teal said.


Teal said the number of families served has fluctuated throughout the year, with a low of 66 and a high of 112.


“They come from many different circumstances,” Teal said. “But we don’t ask them why they come.”


Catholic Charities’ partnership with Second Harvest began in 2005 when the Diocese of Madison was seeking to expand its food bank services outside of Madison. It now sponsors 11 mobile food pantries in the diocese, according to coordinator Sue Palm.


“We take donations and we have a contributor who is heavily invested in the mobile food pantry,” Palm said.


Nearly half the funding comes from the Diocesan Services Appeal, Palm said. Those funds come directly from parish members and are returned to the community to support local projects such as the food pantry.


Another 31 percent comes from grants and a trust fund, while 22 percent of the funding comes from direct donations, she said.


At the August distribution at St. John Vianney, about 50 parish volunteers were on hand to assist the recipients.


Once the parish decided to take on the project, it didn’t take long to get up and running.


“By the second month, we had it down pretty good,” said Janes, one of the committee members.


Some volunteers were stationed in the parking lot to make sure traffic moved smoothly. Another group checked in recipients at a table inside the church. Outside, others helped recipients with carts, while another group helped recipients make their selections.


On the shopping list were dozens of items, including canned vegetables and fruit, cereal, potato chips, grapefruit and cabbage that was picked that morning. There even were chocolate Easter bunnies for those with a bit of a sweet tooth.


Each month the food selection is different, Janes said.


When the truck arrives, organizers are given a manifest that lists the available foods and quantities of each.


Volunteers take about an hour to sort through and divide up the food, then lay it out on tables for recipients to choose from, Janes said.


Recipients are given a randomly selected number, which determines what order they go through the line.


In a little over an hour, all the recipients are on their way with a good selection of food.


Any food left over is donated to ECHO, so nothing goes to waste.


“People are very appreciative,” Teal said. “And they thank us for the food and for how we treat them.”


Read the story in the Sept. 8, 2010 e-edition of The Janesville Messenger, HERE.

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