EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (AP) — About 100 people turned out Friday afternoon at the L.E. Phillips Senior Center for the first of many food pantry events in August.
Feed My People Food Bank hosted the gathering as part of its pop-up food program. Individuals of all ages walked through a line that featured fruits, vegetables, meats, peanut butter, mayonnaise, cereal, crackers, water and toiletries.
The events began a few years ago and will occur weekly in three locations until school begins. Suzanne Becker, assistant director of Feed My People Food Bank, said the organization chose this month because some families have more difficulty providing meals during summer break, and August means a wider array of fresh items are available from local growers.
Three people who used the offerings were Julianne Best, her mother, Kelly Best, and 4-year-old son Loki Best, who pulled a small cart that included watermelon, strawberries, meat, crackers and toilet paper. The items in the cart will provide healthier eating options and budgetary breathing room for the family while school is not in session.
Becker said the events have evolved to include more healthier options lower in salt and sugar content.
"That's hard to do, but that's a real focus," Becker said. "We really think the future of food banking is not just having enough food, but having the right food."
She also said the events have grown over the years to serve more people and include other organizations. Indeed, several employees from the Eau Claire City-County Health Department provided information on healthy eating options, among other topics.
Beth Draeger, manager of the healthy beginnings division at the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, said it made sense to attend because of the connection between diet and health. Ideally, Draeger said a full meal includes 50% fruits and vegetables, 25% proteins and 25% whole grains. She is aware of the time and financial constraints many people have when trying to make a healthy, inexpensive meal, however.
"Let's meet families where they're at and then talk about how we can make what they're doing a little healthier," Draeger told the Leader-Telegram .
Becker said community outreach events can help serve more people by meeting them more directly in their neighborhoods. She also hopes to play a part in decreasing the stigma associated with food banks, something she said is fairly prevalent.
Draeger shared similar sentiments.
"It takes a village to help raise kids and raise families and support each other, so if there's a way we can do that and all work together and take away any sort of stigma that goes with it, I think that's ultimately the goal," Draeger said.
Julianne Best concurred and said misconceptions exist about people who take part in these types of events.
"They're not looking for handouts," Julianne Best said. "They're trying to feed their family and they are hard workers, but not everybody is paid what they're worth."
Becker said the sweltering temperatures presented a challenge to keep some food items preserved, but many volunteers helped with that task and provided water bottles to people waiting in line. Similarly, the Bests expressed thanks for the event and noted that the employees and volunteers were extremely helpful.
Feed My People does not require photo identification to participate, something the Bests said is fairly uncommon among local food banks. Becker said FMP does not want any obstacles to exist and noted that she rarely experiences people taking advantage of free food offerings.
"If anything, we find that too many people don't come and get the help the need," Becker said. "...Take away the barrier of hunger (and) they can fight some of the other barriers in their life."
The first food pop up event appeared to be a positive precursor for the rest of the month. The events will continue for the next several weeks Friday afternoons at the senior center, Saturday mornings at Longfellow Elementary School and Wednesday afternoons at Parkview Elementary School in Chippewa Falls.
Information from: Leader-Telegram, http://www.leadertelegram.com/