Tackling food insecurity during COVID-19: community agencies partner to serve families in need

The River Food Pantry has served more than 1,000 new families during the last four months.
Published: Jul. 23, 2020 at 9:32 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Community agencies are partnering up to fight food insecurity, as many families continue to feel the financial impact of the pandemic.

Thursday afternoon at The River Food Pantry, clients drove up to get boxes of groceries and hot meals. The drive-thru method is new, due to health concerns. What else is new, according to the pantry’s interim executive director Rhonda Adams, is a longer line of clients.

According to Adams, the River has served more than 1,000 new families during the last four months.

Kayla Riley, a client, drove up with her niece and nephew. She said that her family has been visiting the pantry more frequently since the start of the pandemic. Riley said she has not received her federal tax return or her stimulus check. Food stamps, she added, were not enough.

“We’re obviously grateful and super appreciative of services like this but try to use them when we really need them because we know what that’s like and when families really need that. I know that a lot of families need that right now.”

Before the pandemic, Adams said the pantry served approximately 150 families every month. Now, the average is about 260.

“It’s heartbreaking to us to see those numbers,” Adams said. “But we also know that those numbers are going to increase when some of the benefits cease at the end of this month, unless they’re extended.”

But a part of Adams’s response to the pandemic has been to tackle food insecurity with partners—about 70 other pantries, banks and agencies in the area.

Every Thursday for four months now, the leaders of the agencies join a virtual call to “coordinate the emergency response,” according to the meeting’s co-host.

Nick Heckman, the food security policy analyst with Public Health Madison and Dane County, continued, “This has allowed agencies to learn from each other as they rapidly shift models of distribution as well as learn from public health best practices to keep their staff healthy and safe.”

“It feels good. This whole collaboration,” Adams said. “There’s so many people that are coming together. Everyday we’re all looking for how else we can serve other people. Is there anything we can do to make things better?”

After getting her box of groceries, Riley said, “We like to say we’re in between blessings, instead of ‘we’re broke.' We’re in between blessings, and we just need a little help.”

At The River, volunteers and donations are always welcome. Especially now, Adams said, the pantry has a need for fresh produce.

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