Food pantries band together to feed struggling Wis. Dells families

BARABOO, Wis (WMTV) - COVID-19 has impacted almost every aspect of people’s lives, including how some get food on the table. The impact is particularly great in the Wisconsin Dells and surrounding areas, where many face unemployment as the tourism industry remains at a standstill.

Sadie Schuetz, who said she was let go from her job working for a resort in the Dells area, is one of countless people who have found themselves waiting in a long lines in their cars to get food at Beyond Blessed Pantry in Baraboo.

“I know for me, most of our family, me and my boyfriend, in both of our families most everyone has lost their job,” she said.

According to representatives with Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin, in the two-month span from mid-March to May, they distributed around 40 percent of the total food they gave out last year to Adams, Juneau, Sauk and Columbia counties.

Those who work at Beyond Blessed Pantry in Baraboo have seen the increased need first-hand. Shannon Howley, the executive director and president, said on an average month they would serve around 300 people.

“In April we served over 1,500 households,” Howley said.
The pantry’s reach goes beyond just Baraboo, stretching into the Dells and surrounding areas. It’s an especially trying time for a community that relies heavily on tourism and surrounding areas.

Nearly 46 percent of the jobs available in Adams Co. have been impacted by COVID-19, the largest percentage in the state, according to Wisconsin Policy Forum .

“There are so many people that are just off work. The Dells along employs thousands of people, and it’s shut down,” Howley said.

Howley said, while they know they are helping, it’s heartbreaking because this is across the board and many people still need help.

At Vine Street Market in the Dells, Food Coordinator Autumn Giddings said they are also trying to keep up with the demand.

“A lot of our people got laid off, and a lot of our people have not been able to collect their unemployment,” she said.

Giddings said they normally would have about 20 shoppers a week, but are now up to 500 families a week, with deliveries going out to over 100 families.

Community Heroes, a non-profit in Sauk Co. made up of first responders, started delivering food to families after school got shut down. The Baraboo Middle School resource officer, Amanda Sabol, said they have delivered just over 15,000 pounds of food, serving at least 115 families each week.

“We are working, we are already here, we know where they live and can get this to them in a safe and efficient manner,” Sabol said.

For those on the receiving end of help, like Schuetz, the long lines serve as a reminder they are not in this alone.

“It’s a really difficult time, you can tell a lot of people are struggling,” she said.

Beyond Blessed said they will continue their new extended hours through August. All the organizations stressed it is a team effort between the local pantries, grocery stores and places like Second Harvest Food Bank to meet the need.