Food pantries in the Ripon area have worked hard during the COVID-19 pandemic to combat food insecurity.
A pantry that has seen the greatest demand is Traded Treasures & Community Food Pantry, located at 102 West Jackson St.
When most businesses asked employees to work from home, Executive Director Amy Pollesch said the Community Food Pantry extended hours to serve families in need and created new precautions to keep its team safe.
“Deep cleaning and sanitizing are a regular part of our weekly routine,” Pollesch said. “All food is pre-bagged in order for us to continue low- to no-contact service. All clients remain in their vehicles as we place bags of food into the trunk for our clients in need of a little extra help.”
Now, even a year into the pandemic, she said the Community Food Pantry is purchasing food weekly to meet demand and keep its shelves well stocked with the goal of giving families shelf-staple items, fresh fruits and vegetables as well as a bag of meat and whole grains each visit.
“If we can help lessen the financial burden of a family’s grocery bill, they are able to use their resources to pay rent and maintain housing stability,” Pollesch said.
Since last March, Pollesch says the Community Food Pantry has seen a greater need from the families it serves and has increased the amount of food that each family receives on a monthly basis.
“The pantry is currently sending out an average of 600 to 700 bags of food every month to families in our community that are struggling,” she said.
One of the challenges the Community Food Pantry faced over the past year was having Traded Treasures Thrift Store closed down for two and a half months with no sales, Pollesch said. She explained that thrift store sales provide roughly 70% of revenue for the food pantry.
She added that food insecurity from the rising cost of food prices is increasingly impacting the Ripon area.
Pollesch described several types of food insecurity. The first is “Chronic food insecurity,” which affects individuals with long-term, and rarely changing, circumstances due to a fixed condition or disability.
“The Community Food Pantry is typically involved in these families’ lives for an extended time,” she said. “These families are most significantly affected by the stresses of life and are not feeling the relief of the extra unemployment payouts.”
The second is “transitional food insecurity,” which impacts families dealing with relocation or short-term layoffs.
“The Community Food Pantry is typically a short-term lifeline for these families as they make adjustments and get back on their feet. Seasonal food insecurity affects our neighbors during an unexpected crisis,” Pollesch said. “The Community Food Pantry will help with multiple layers of assistance and an occasional partnership with Ripon’s Salvation Army funds as these families get back on their feet.”
She says the Community Food Pantry is “uniquely designed to generate income to support” the pantry via Traded Treasures, which sells gently used items that are donated to cover the daily operating expenses and food purchases.
The Community Food Pantry also is largely supported with financial donations, Pollesch added.
“We are beyond blessed from our donors that donate items to us to sell rather than having a rummage sale or selling on a local site. Those quality donations are truly feeding our neighbors in need,” Pollesch said.
Even with that support, she says the food pantry is in need of building repairs.
“Our focus in 2021 is to raise funds to replace leaking windows and siding that is falling off our food pantry building,” she said. “We know this is not a fun ask, but it is a great need.”
Another food pantry working to make a difference is the Ripon Area Food Pantry, which operates out of St. Catherine of Siena.
Jean Zimmerman, a spokesperson for the Ripon Area Food Pantry, said the pantry was formed in the 1980s by eight local churches, who wanted to make a difference.
In recent years, she noted it seems like the community is unaware of the Ripon Area Food Pantry’s services, making it hard to gauge the demand for service.
“We’ve not gotten the word out that we have food and are willing; we have a lot of food, and it should be distributed to the public,” Zimmerman said, noting the pantry carries most items that can be found at the local grocery store.
Those interested in the Ripon Area Food Pantry should call 920-748-3196 for service. Food pick-up is held Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Outside of Ripon, several food pantries in Green Lake County have been working to meet the needs of those struggling to afford food.
One pantry in particular is the Green Lake County Food Pantry, which is run by the county and is open Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon.
Betty Bradley, Green Lake County aging and ADRC Unit manager, says the pantry served about 208 households per month on average last year, with higher demand from June to December. In fact, the Green Lake County Food Pantry served 333 new families who had never used its services before.
So far in 2021, the Green Lake County Food Pantry has served around 150 families per month, which Bradley said is normal because demand decreases after the holidays.
She says falling unemployment, recent stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits and food share benefits have helped to reduce the burden on the food pantry.
“The fact that everybody got those two stimulus checks pretty close together, the extra unemployment and the extra food share [helped]. I think people just aren’t having as much need as they did earlier last year,” she said. “I think you’re starting to see some recovery.”
While some have gotten back on their feet, Bradley added that a portion of the county is still struggling.
Due to the pandemic, she says the county food pantry transitioned to a “no-touch system” where pantry staff load individuals’ cars.
“We as a civilized society are responsible to take care of each other,” Bradley said. “Food pantries really fill a niche because people really do struggle for food. The cost of groceries right now is quite high. So the more you have to spend on things like rent, the less you have for groceries. The food pantries in the area really help a person stretch their food dollars.”