MADISON, Wis. – Demand on food pantries has grown over the last few years, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
The River Food Pantry is always busy. On an average day, they’re preparing fresh meals, packing grocery bags, and organizing deliveries.
Like most food pantries across Wisconsin, they’ve been swamped.
“We currently serve food through eight different programs,” said Helen Osborn-Senatus, The River’s Director of Operations. “Prior to the pandemic, we served food through three different programs.”
For the first half of this year, they’ve served 41% more families than they did during the same timeframe in 2019. Their fresh meal program has also skyrocketed.
“Looking at the numbers, it’s actually increased 189% comparing the spring of 2019 to the spring of 2023,” Osborn-Senatus said.
Extra food benefits from the federal government ended in March. Suddenly, people who had come to rely on that money weren’t getting it anymore. The pandemic upended some people’s lives and careers. On top of all of that, prices for food, housing, and basic necessities have risen dramatically due to inflation.
“Just because eggs are $4 a dozen doesn’t mean that people’s wages are going to increase when things fluctuate like that,” she said.
On a Wednesday morning, cars were already lined up waiting for food more than 90 minutes before the pantry even opened.
Bill Kyle came out of retirement to work for The River Food Pantry.
“There’s the stereotype that it’s people who are in need, in hard times, and just keep coming back,” Kyle said. “But, I think the average number of visits is something like 7.”
Every day, they try to get families through tough times, and often those tough times are temporary.
“Sometimes it might go to plan, sometimes you might have to get creative,” said Osborn-Senatus. “Our goal is to get people food.”