By Jeff Pederson
of The Beacon staff
As the COVID-19 (coronavirus) public health emergency has negatively impacted all aspects of society, the Sheboygan County Food Bank has stepped up its efforts to assist those in need of food.
With Gov. Tony Evers safer at home order closing a wide range of “non-essential” businesses since March 25 in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, a growing economic crisis has left an increasing number of Sheboygan County residents in danger of going hungry.
In response, the Sheboygan County Food Bank has sprung into action to provide an accelerated level of service in this unprecedented times.
“The Sheboygan County Food Bank normally distributes food to 16 food pantries,” Sheboygan County Food Bank Executive Director Patrick Boyle said. “During the crisis, we have increased to serving 29 different pantries when you include our new school meal site locations where we are distributing emergency food boxes and many other partner agencies in Sheboygan County.
“Our partner agencies then put food into the hands of our neighbors who need it most,” he said. “All food we deliver is absolutely free. There is no charge for food, delivery or partner agency network membership. All food we deliver is local. We stay true to our roots by serving local families in Sheboygan County.”
According to Boyle, the Sheboygan County Food Bank has been delivering food to those in need on a continuous basis since 1982
“The Sheboygan County Food Bank has been around for about 38 years,” Boyle said. “It has existed because of the kindness and determined efforts of volunteers. In the last couple of years, thanks to Hunger Task Force, concerned business leaders, the SCFB Board of Directors, and the continued dedication of volunteers, we have grown from one devoted part-time employee, to a team of five dedicated full-time and three part-time team members.
Boyle says the Sheboygan County Food Bank is presently operating a historically high level to help as many local people as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Sheboygan County Food Bank (SCFB) is continuing its dedication to serving residents in need of emergency food, including those directly affected by the COVID-19 health and economic crisis,” Boyle said. “SCFB is remaining open in service to our partners who serve seniors, families, and children. With the evolving situation, we continue to adjust operational safety measures and expand programming to ensure we are safely providing access to healthy, emergency food for all Sheboygan County residents in need.
“While taking the necessary precautions recommended by the Center of Disease Control, SCFB is working hard with committed volunteers to assemble emergency food into prepackaged boxes, which contain a weekly supply of food for a family of four,” he said. “Our primary focus is to safely deliver these emergency food boxes within the community to food pantries, shelters, low-income senior housing sites, schools, and other organizations.”
The currently emergency-level effort has been sustained over the past seven weeks through a multi-level approach, spanning a highly coordinated effort among partner community organizations and volunteers.
“Our current initiative during the COVID-19 pandemic is to continue to distribute prepackaged emergency food boxes, which contain a weekly supply of food for a family of four as well as personal care items and other food to our 16 partner food pantries and other partner organizations,” Boyle said. “Continuing to deliver Food for Thought, which includes supplemental weekend food backpack program for children and bags of food for 400 students at school meal sites.
“Continuing to deliver food to qualifying seniors in Sheboygan County through a federal nutrition program,” he said. “Each delivered box contains 16 nutritious items including rice, cereal, juice, beef stew, pasta and vegetables. Distributing prepackaged emergency food boxes to 13 school meals sites and other partners. Partnering with Love, INC. to distribute prepackaged emergency food boxes to our homebound neighbors in need of food.”
In order to provide adequate assistance meet the current level of community need, Boyle says the Sheboygan County Food Bank is now in need of substantial financial assistance.
“Donating money is the easiest, safest way to help,” Boyle said. “Cash donations to purchase food items will continue to be important for Sheboygan County Food Bank during this time to meet the increased demand and cover shortfalls in food donations, which is why we recently launched our Sheboygan County Hunger Relief Food Fund. Donations to this fund go specifically to purchase healthy emergency food during this time.
“If you would like to donate, any amount is graciously accepted,” he said. “We accept both checks and online donations. If you decide to send a check, please make checks payable to Sheboygan County Food Bank” and mail to our location, 3115 N 21st St., Suite #1, Sheboygan, WI 53083. Please note ‘Sheboygan County Hunger Relief Food Fund’ if you would like your gift to go specifically for food purchases in response to COVID-19 in our community. Online donations can be made at http://www.SheboyganCountyFoodBank.com. Here, there is a ‘Sheboygan County Hunger Relief Food Fund’ designation option.”
The Sheboygan County Food Bank has incorporated and intricate distribution process with a strong focus on safe deliver.
“Sheboygan County Food Bank distributes food to 16 food pantries and many other partner agencies in Sheboygan County using our box truck and refrigerated truck,” Boyle said. “Our partner agencies then put food into the hands of our neighbors who need it most. At this time, all of our partner food pantries have transitioned to handing out prepackaged food boxes and bags using a drive-thru method, or pick-up approach, while wearing personal protective gear.”
In addition, the Sheboygan County Food Bank has enlisted the services of additional volunteers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Sheboygan County consists of a team of five dedicated full-time and three part-time team members,” Boyle said. “Throughout the year, we normally rely on a handful of volunteers to assist with building and delivering food orders. In addition, we periodically rely on groups of volunteers to sort and pack food from community food drives, especially after our three annual partnership food drives with local letter carriers, Boy Scouts of America, and Making Spirits Bright.
During this time, we have adjusted and increased volunteer assistance to include small volunteer groups multiple times each week,” he said. “Volunteers safely assemble the emergency food boxes that we are delivering as extra support to 13 school meals sites and other partners. Volunteers also fill in the gaps at our partner food pantries, where many of the volunteers are the most vulnerable during this health crisis.”
Boyle says a number of non-profit organizations have come forward to aid the Sheboygan County Food Bank’s effort in recent weeks.
“United Way of Sheboygan of County has already awarded us $15,000 in grant money to purchase food and personal care items for our emergency food boxes,” Boyle said. “In addition, volunteers who want to help with assembling emergency food boxes utilize their website to view and sign up for available shifts. Many other non-profits in the county have graciously brought their staff to the food bank to volunteer as well.
“In April, we began partnering with Love, INC. to distribute our prepackaged emergency food boxes to our homebound neighbors in need of food.”
Boyle says the emergency need for food in Sheboygan County is not expected to ease any time soon.
“As our community’s businesses and organizations adjust operations to take necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, SCFB is anticipating a significant increase in emergency food assistance for our neighbors,” Boyle said. “This will require sustained, increased emergency food distribution throughout our community to ensure no one in Sheboygan County goes hungry.
“In 2019, Sheboygan County Food Bank served approximately 3,000 Sheboygan County families each month,” he said. “Beginning in March 2020, SCFB doubled the amount of food that it distributed through its emergency food network compared to March 2019. SCFB has already seen a sharp increase in families served and we are expecting this figure to double in the coming weeks, and perhaps even triple, given the projected amount of people who will be unemployed due to the crisis.”
So far in 2020, the Sheboygan County Food Bank has seen its annual food drives grind to a halt, creating more demand for donations to the program.
“The food donations that SCFB normally relies on through food drives have been significantly reduced,” Boyle said. “Two of SCFB’s three largest annual community food drives have been postponed by the organizers and may be cancelled altogether for 2020. Since the declared state of emergency in March, SCFB has suspended all food drives with individuals, businesses, and organizations in the community for safety reasons.
“In addition to the loss of securing food supply from community food drives, SCFB has suspended its gleaning program in partnership with multiple area grocery stores during this time,” he said. “This program was on track for providing 100,000 pounds in 2020. “
Through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Boyle says the Sheboygan County Food Bank is determined to meet the community need.
“Because of the increased pressure on our emergency food network and the loss of a significant supply of donated food, it is crucial for SCFB to continue to purchase food exponentially beyond its standard annual food purchasing budget,” Boyle said. “SCFB spends about $50,000 on food purchases annually, in order to supplement the food drives that are consistently occurring in the community. In response to COVID-19 in our community and the projected increased need, by the end of the year we are now forecasting more than one million dollars needed to support food purchases.
“We give special thanks to all of those who have already shown compassion through monetary gifts,” he said. “These gifts combined with our dedicated volunteers, staff, and partner organizations are a remarkable inspiration through this difficult time and we know that we will get through this as a community with your continued support.”