||Volunteers prepare for clients at the first Parish Mobile Food Pantry offered at St. Mary of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Pardeeville in June. (Catholic Herald photo/Kat Wagner)
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PARDEEVILLE -- By 3 p.m., as the first Parish Mobile Food Pantry held at St. Mary of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Pardeeville began, the queue of people holding their empty bags and boxes already snaked around the parking lot.
This demonstration of need was not surprising. In these tough economic times, the number of individuals and families struggling to make ends meet is staggering.
The number of unemployed persons in the United States as of August is 12.5 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a recent survey by the Associated Press of estimates on soon-to-be released 2011 census data may show another increase in the poverty rate, some projections putting it at as high as 15.7 percent, its highest level since 1965.
In urban areas such as Madison, there are multiple food pantries and meal offerings available; in more rural settings there are fewer options.
To address this need, Catholic Charities in 2005 began offering a new program called the Parish Mobile Food Pantry. The pantry, a truck filled with food, comes monthly to a participating parish to serve the hundreds of families in need of the basic necessities.
Meeting the growing need
The program began as the brainchild of president Brian Cain and after research into the need, was built up as a collaborative effort between Catholic Charities and Second Harvest Food Bank of Wisconsin, with funding provided by the Jack DeLoss Taylor Charitable Trust.
“We looked at the economy and the challenges that were faced by people as the result of job losses and unemployment, and we recognized that the basic needs might not be taken care of, like food and clothing and health,” Cain said.
||Food Pantry Locations
- First Thursday: 4 to 5 p.m., St. Mary Parish, 919 W. Main St., Palmyra
- Second Monday: 11 a.m. to 12 noon, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish and St. Vincent de Paul Society of Portage, at St. Mary Church, 1311 W. Wisconsin St., Portage
- Second Monday: 3 to 4 p.m., St. John Vianney Parish, 1250 E. Racine St., Janesville
- Second Tuesday: 2 to 2:30 p.m., St. John Parish, 231 N. Wyalusing St., Patch Grove
- Second Thursday: 3 to 4 p.m., St. Joseph Parish, 1660 Endl. Blvd., Fort Atkinson
- Third Tuesday: 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Immaculate Conception Parish, 405 E. Legrand St., Boscobel
- Third Thursday: 3 to 4 p.m., St. Clare of Assisi Parish and St. Vincent de Paul Society of Monroe, at St. Victor Church, 501 First Ave., Monroe
- Third Friday: 2 to 3 p.m., Holy Rosary Church, 14 E. Harriet St., Darlington
- Fourth Monday: 4 to 5 p.m., St. Mary of the Most Holy Rosary Parish, 318 S. Main St., Pardeeville
- Fourth Thursday: 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., Sacred Heart Parish, 624 N. Willow St., Reedsburg
- Last Monday: 5 to 6 p.m., SS. Anthony and Philip Parish, 726 Main St., Highland
The Mobil Food Pantry, which can reach the pockets of those in need around the diocese, helps meet at least one of those basic needs.
“That stabilizes them, so that they can spend the money on medications and other needs, and we’ve seen evidence of that,” Cain said.
In 2005, only two parishes were involved, but the program has since grown to include 11 participating parishes in eight counties. Participation continues to grow as more communities become aware of the program.
In the Diocese of Madison, parishes currently being served are Immaculate Conception Parish, Boscobel; Holy Rosary Parish, Darlington; St. Joseph Parish, Fort Atkinson; SS. Anthony and St. Philip Parish, Highland; St. John Vianney Parish, Janesville; St. Vincent de Paul with St. Clare of Assisi Parish, Monroe; St. Mary Parish, Palmyra; St. Mary of the Most Holy Rosary, Pardeeville; St. John Parish, Patch Grove; St. Vincent de Paul with St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish, Portage; and Sacred Heart Parish, Reedsburg.
The Parish Mobile Food Pantry Program allows parish members to provide ministry to the poor and impact people in need. Catholic Charities coordinates efforts at participating parishes and purchases food at reduced prices from Second Harvest. Second Harvest provides the truck, loads it, and brings it to each parish monthly. The parish avoids having to fundraise, shop, or store food and can concentrate on volunteers to assist people coming to pick up food.
The Mobile Food Pantry is a cost-effective way to distribute perishable foods quickly so they are not wasted. As a result, greater quantities of healthy, nutritious food items such as milk, juice, eggs, bread, and fresh produce are available. These items have seen the largest increase in price over the past couple years.
Essentially, in a short time, hundreds of pounds of food are distributed to those in need. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of employees and volunteers, in 2011 the Parish Mobile Food Pantries served 50,354 people and distributed 1,017,748 pounds of food.
Families served grows
At St. Mary Parish in Pardeeville, the number of families served has grown to 214 in the past three months since the parish began hosting the pantry.
“The parishes who really jumped in and wanted to do it have embraced it and been successful, because so much depends on the volunteers,” said Sue Palm, the Mobile Food Pantry coordinator for Catholic Charities of Madison.
Volunteering at a parish mobile food pantry reflects the basic philosophy of Catholic social teaching: to help those in need. “And food is such a basic need,” Palm said.
“I go and visit [the pantry locations] and it’s amazing how many volunteers have been there since the beginning — they love it,” she said. “It’s rewarding; people are so appreciative, and it’s their neighbors. I feel like they know they’re helping their community.”
Catholic Charities of Madison shared one story that is typical of how the Mobile Food Pantry can make a difference in people’s lives:
Ron, a single father of two young children, was unemployed for several months. He worked small jobs on local farms, but not on a regular basis. His brother, Tim, a married man with three children, suffered a serious bout of depression, lost his job, and eventually lost his home. The family was in serious financial distress. Ron extended a hand to help Tim’s family, and invited them to live with him. Ron was then responsible for supporting two families on a small and unreliable income.
The Mobile Food Pantry program assists people like Ron and Tim by helping them provide food for their families. When impoverished families have access to the Mobile Food Pantry, it allows them to use their limited financial resources toward other basic needs such as housing, utilities, and medical expenses.
For more information on the Parish Mobile Food Pantry program, visit the Catholic Charities of Madison Web site at www.ccmadison.org The mission of Catholic Charities is to provide help and create hope in an effort to address the basic needs of individuals and families.