While demand is declining, the need remains, Kingdom Come volunteers say

OCONTO FALLS – Kingdom Come Food Pantry volunteers hope food and cash donations will continue at a steady pace, even though demand has declined in recent months.

“We don’t want to not take it, because we want people to keep donating next year, when… one of the many pantry managers.

“What we don’t need today, we will need it the next day or the next month,” he added.

Surplus food received at Oconto Falls is being shared with the northern pantries in Coleman, Lakewood, Crivitz and Amberg, as well as the NEW homeless shelter in Green Bay, he explained.

“Anywhere we can get it, so it doesn’t get wasted, that’s the key right now,” Hille said.

Donations can be left in the pantry on Monday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. or Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Don Hille of Oconto Falls is one of the volunteer directors of Kingdom Come Food Pantry in Oconto Falls, which gives out food every Tuesday.

“We welcome all donations, large or small, it doesn’t matter,” volunteer Lori Schaden. ” It’s very appreciated.

In addition to donations from local stores collected each week, much of the food distributed by Kingdom Come comes from Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, which supplies pantries in Oconto County and throughout the eastern half of Wisconsin.

USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin and the Oconto County Reporter, in partnership with Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, host the annual Stock the Shelves campaign in October which encourages readers to donate to help fight hunger in their local communities.

Kingdom Come is the only pantry in the Oconto County area open weekly. The others are every two weeks or once a month.

“They come quite religiously, those who need help,” Hille said.

Customers can pick up food from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday. They come from all over the region – including Oconto, Suring, Gillett, Pulaski, even Suamico in northern Brown County and Coleman and Pound in Marinette County – to Oconto Falls to collect food.

Lori Schaden, Volunteer Manager at Kingdom Come, replenishes the line of filled grocery bags waiting to be picked up by customers on Tuesday, October 5th.

Before the pandemic, Kingdom Come would serve around 300 households per week.

“It was our standard,” Schaden said.

When distributing boxes of food as part of the USDA’s Farmers to Families program, which ran from April 2020 to May 2021, Kingdom Come sometimes more than doubled that mark.

“We would have a truckload delivered every week,” he said. “It was huge for all of Oconto County.”

Eventually, as the economy reopened and people returned to work, the number of customers dropped back to 300.

But over the past few months, the number of customers has declined from around 225 to 240. However, it’s usually highest on the last Tuesday of the month. This is when those in need of diapers can move to separate the line and receive these and other personal care or hygiene products, which are donated by Jake’s Network of Hope, Neenah .

Hille attributes the drop to increases in the benefits of food stamps, allowing people to buy more at the supermarket.

Recipients received a 15% raise in December as part of the congressional-approved US bailout, and in April, households receiving SNAP benefits received at least an additional $ 95 in emergency allowances.

And due to a change in the way food prices are calculated by the USDA, SNAP recipients this month started receiving about 25% more in benefits.

Volunteers stay engaged

Even though there are fewer customers, around 30 volunteers continue to show up at Kingdom Come week after week. Some are there for the morning, others all afternoon.

“We’re here for about the same number of hours,” Hille said. “We probably wouldn’t need that many volunteers for Tuesday, but everyone loves coming here. It’s a great place to volunteer your time. People always come, no matter what.

Schaden said volunteers appreciate the camaraderie in service to others.

“It’s the social aspect, getting together,” she said. “It’s a great group, a great social gathering, in addition to volunteering.

Karen Lutz, another official, said many volunteers were between 70 and even 80 years old.

“It’s definitely not work,” Hille said. “Not working at all.”

That doesn’t mean the volunteers aren’t busy. On Tuesday there was a constant stream of vehicles pulling up to a hangar where they displayed their registration.

The shed, a former fishing hut, was donated by a local family weeks after Kingdom Come hosted a drive-thru during its operation after the pandemic began in March 2020. Hille put on some insulation and panels inside to make it a bit more comfortable for Don Funkhouser, who checks in customers.

A car pulls up to the check-in station, driven by Don Funkhouser, at Kingdom Come Food Pantry in Oconto Falls on Tuesday, October 5, 2021.

Funkhouser gives them a card with a number, which tells the volunteers how many families they are going to get groceries for.

Many clients come looking for themselves and one or even two other families. Someone from Suring will regularly collect food on behalf of five or six families, Hille said.

Customers open their trunk or hatch when they arrive, and three or four volunteers quickly load the correct number of bags and offer any extras that might be available.

Each household receives two bags of groceries, as well as meat, eggs and milk. The amount can be doubled for large families.

“It’s something to supplement their food,” Hille said. “It’s not enough for a week, but enough to get by and make a difference for them.”

The drive-thru has been in place for 18 months and works so well that customers who showed up at 6 or 7 a.m. and were waiting for the opening now only come at least 8 a.m. because they usually know. they won’t have to wait long.

Steve Krause, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Kingdom Come Food Pantry in Oconto Falls, loads eggs into customers' vehicles on Tuesday, October 5, 2021.

The longest waits came during the high demand for boxes of food at the height of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, when people lined up on Locust Avenue to Highland Drive.

“For us, being able to handle 669 people in one day was amazing,” said Hille.

Unfortunately, the pandemic meant that the new reception desk and spacious waiting room – part of an addition to Kingdom Come that opened in March 2018 and which included an office – were only used for two years.

Customers were not afraid to wait 30 or 40 minutes for a chance to select items for the shelves inside the pantry as it gave them a chance to chat with others.

“They miss that piece,” Hille said. “They fail to come in and talk to people.”

Like the volunteers, Shaden added, customers enjoyed the social aspect of the Tuesday cast.

“They just love to visit,” she said.

Shaden said the plan was to continue the drive-thru until the pandemic was brought under control. Hille hopes they can reopen their interior spaces by next spring.

“It all depends on what’s going on,” Schaden said.

Since opening in the fall of 2005, Kingdom Come has been supported by seven churches: Grace Lutheran, St. Anthony’s Catholic, United Methodist and Riverview Alliance, all in Oconto Falls; St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Stiles and Green Bay.

Karen Lutz of Oconto Falls, Volunteer Manager for Kingdom Come Food Pantry in Oconto Falls, is seen next to the line of grocery bags waiting to be picked up by customers on October 5.

Help fill the shelves by donating in October

Since 2010, Stock the Shelves has raised more than $ 5 million for Wisconsin pantries through donations from readers and support from community partners, including credit unions.

Stock the Shelves aims to help people in need in communities served by the following Wisconsin newspapers: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Appleton Post Crescent, Green Bay Press Gazette, Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter, Sheboygan Press, Fond du Lac Reporter, Oshkosh Northwestern , Wausau Daily Herald, Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, Marshfield News Record, Stevens Point Journal, Door County Advocate, Oconto County Reporter and Kewaunee County Star-News.

Money raised last year helped provide approximately half a million meals to people in need in these communities.

Donations will help support the community in which the donor resides.

Checks should be made payable to Feeding American Eastern Wisconsin, ATTN: Stock the Shelves, and mailed to 2911 W. Evergreen Drive, Appleton WI 54913. Include with your contribution the donor’s address with city, state and postcode for internal processing, a note of whether or not the donation should be kept anonymous, whether the donation is in memory of someone special, and the donor’s name as it should appear in the advertisement thank you note that will be published in the Thanksgiving edition of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin dailies.

To donate online, visit feedamericawi.org/stocktheshelvesdonate/.

RELATED:Store the shelves: A father’s tearful thanks for NEWCAP food delivery reminds the need for pantry support

FOR MORE OCCONTO COUNTY NEWS:Check out our website!

Contact Kent Tempus at (920) 354-6075 or [email protected].

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