Jamie Taylor/river news
Fraiser's Plumbing, Heating and Cooling recently donated food, along with $500 in cash, to the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry. In addition, one of the technicians at the company donated $125 from his tool fund to the pantry. Pictured, from left, Phil Fraiser, Kyle Leighton, Haley Kempken of Fraiser's and Monday site manager for the food pantry.
1/14/2020 7:30:00 AM 'I don't want anybody to go hungry' Rhinelander Area Food Pantry officials reflect on busy holiday season
Stephanie Kuski River News Features Reporter
As the end of the "season of giving" quickly approaches, the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry continues to emphasize the need for donations and volunteers year-round.
According to general manager Jane Motowski, the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry services upwards of 450 families from Oneida County each year.
During the holidays, especially between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the number of families the food pantry supports tends to increase, Motowski added.
"This year was a bit busier than usual," Motowski said, noting that the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry serviced upwards of 70 families per night during the 2019 holiday season.
After the holidays, however, people tend to forget about donating or volunteering. But the need for donations and volunteers does not go away.
In 2019, the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry distributed 655,351 pounds of food, which is "a little higher than it has been," Motowski said.
"We're lucky, we've gotten many donations from the community," Motowski noted. "We have a lot of support."
Motowski said she can expect anywhere between 500 and 600 visits per month. With only two part-time employees on staff, the organization relies heavily on volunteers to keep the doors open.
The total amount of purchased and donated food that came in during the 2019 year amounted to 741,000 pounds, Motowski said. Of that amount, 532,000 pounds of food was donated.
Motowski said she does her best to keep produce stocked at all times in the pantry, which is something not all area food pantries have been able to accomplish.
Motowski said she orders roughly 2,000 pounds of produce per week, but even that amount doesn't keep the pantry stocked through the week.
The Rhinelander Area Food Pantry sees many families who consistently utilize their services, but there are also families who stop in less frequently. Motowski said that's what the food pantry is there for, to help people when they need it.
She said people shouldn't have to make the decision to spend what funds they have on either medication, rent, utilities or food.
"I don't want anybody to go hungry," Motowski said. "We do our best, and that's all we can do."
While residents can come during the food distribution hours three times per week, there are other programs the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry offers, including the Direct Connect Program, Community Garden, Weekend Backpack Program, Emergency Bag Program and a home delivery service.
As part of Feeding America, the Direct Connect Program partners with area grocery and convenience stores to collect items pulled from the shelves that are still good but not sellable. The food pantry collects items that would have been donated through the Feeding America program, but cuts out the middleman by picking up the food directly from the stores and bringing it to the food pantry themselves.
In this way, the items collected stay within the community and feed local families.
"It all stays right here, it doesn't go anywhere else," Motowski said.
The Direct Connect Program provided over 268,000 pounds of food in 2019, Motowski said, but that number is down from previous years due to corporate changes. When the program first started, Motowski said, she could expect to pick up upwards of 4,000 pounds from a store at any time, but now that number is usually closer to one or two thousand.
To keep up with the demand in the area, the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry has also partnered with the Rhinelander Community Garden so that the fruits and vegetables grown in the garden are donated directly to the food pantry.
"They bring in usually over 3,000 lbs of fresh, organically-grown produce every summer," Motowski said.
But in order to extend that growing season, they were also able to raise enough money to build a greenhouse in the hopes of providing fresh, locally-grown produce year-round.
The Weekend Backpack Program is a partnership with the School District of Rhinelander, in which the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry packages up what would be enough to get a student through the weekend hunger-free.
While this program previously was offered only to students enrolled in free and reduced lunches, it is now offered to anyone who needs it.
While the Weekend Backpack Program starts off with quite a few families in the beginning of the school year, that number usually levels off to roughly 170-200 families supported consistently throughout the year, Motowski said.
The Emergency Bag Program offers a bag containing roughly 10-12 pounds of food that can be picked up at the Rhinelander Fire Department, when the food pantry is closed. In this way, if someone needs food immediately late at night, they can go to the fire department for immediate relief.
The Rhinelander Area Food Pantry also offers a home delivery service for patrons who are homebound, in which volunteers deliver packages of food.
In addition to individual and business donations of food and money, local school groups also fundraise throughout the year to help support the food pantry.
However, the food pantry relies heavily on volunteers as well.
"We're always taking volunteers, we always have something someone can do," Motowski said. "It takes a lot of people."
Susan Swanson, financial secretary for the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry, has been a volunteer for several years. She echoed Motowski's thoughts as to how much volunteers are needed.
"We would not operate if we didn't have the community we live in. We are so dependent on our donations, both financially and those that donate food. We couldn't function without them," Swanson said. "We have a wonderful community that backs us up."
The need for volunteers and donations stems from the many in our area who are in need of these services.
"We're constantly getting in new families." Swanson said. "I don't think a week goes by where we aren't taking in one new household."
"Our numbers tend to stay consistent," she said. "We get new people every day. I got three new people just last night."
When sending in donations, be sure to check the overall condition and expiration date of your items, Motowski said. Everyday items such as flour, condiments, pasta, peanut butter, fruits and vegetables are always in need and welcomed.
"I won't refuse anything that's usable," Motowski continued. "There are too many people that need the help."
Motowski said her mission is to "feed people who are hungry, or who need the help."
"Unfortunately, I don't think the need will ever go down," she said. "There will always be a need. This is a low-income area, you have people that make lots of money and you have people that don't. But we're fortunate that they all support us."
Food is distributed to patrons on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays but donations are accepted Monday-Friday. Visit their website, www.rhinelanderareafoodpantry.org for more information.
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