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Second Harvest Food Pantry plays major role in lives of local families
food pantry for web
Volunteer Avie Paulson hands out Christmas boxes at Second Harvest's mobile food pantry

The Second Harvest Mobile Food Pantry was in Gays Mills on Friday, Dec. 19. That was five days earlier than usual due to the approaching holiday.

Second Harvest is in its fifth year of distributing food in Gays Mills and has committed to doing so for another two years, according to local coordinator Cindy Kohles. That is a significant fact, given the agency likes to move its sites every three years. But the Gays Mills site is working well and serving people from up to five counties in any given month.

The pantry served 176 households representing 438 people this past Friday. Of those, 133 people served were senior citizens and 119 were children.

“Second Harvest has been sending food for 170 families, so a few did go home short this time around,” said Kohles.

For those using the service, it is a supplement they truly rely upon. Without it, getting by would mean choosing among necessities on what to forgo.

“My paycheck doesn’t cut it,” explained a single mother.

The neatly dressed woman said that she was not receiving any support from the father of her only child. Despite working fulltime and qualifying for medical coverage and some foodshare benefits, her paychecks simply could not stretch far enough to meet all of their needs.

Standing only a few yards away was an elderly widow living on a fixed income. She was there to pick up food for herself and a disabled neighbor who was too ill to attend this time.

“I live by myself,” the widow noted. “I just have my social security to live on.”

“It’s very helpful to me,” she said of the Second Harvest Food Pantry. “If I didn’t have this, I suppose the kids would have to help me out even more than they do, and they have kids of their own to raise.”

A third visitor was picking up food for a family that was unable to attend. The father, a farmer, had become disabled, leaving the wife and eldest son to run the farm. But that eldest child was seriously injured in an accident recently and is hospitalized, leaving the family in an increasingly precarious situation.

“They are a large family,” the helper noted. “They are so very needy, right now, so vulnerable.”

An estimated 14.3 percent of American households were food insecure at least some time during the year in 2013. This means they lacked enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members, according to the USDA. Of those households, 60 percent were able to avoid eating less because of the federal food assistance program and access to food pantries.

Second Harvest plays an important role in assisting those in need, supplementing the local food pantries, who sometimes face greater demand than supply.

“We use the food pantry in Prairie du Chien sometimes,” said one patron, a mother of two small children with a third on the way and a husband fully employed. “But they run out of food awfully fast, so they can’t always help much.

“Last time we were here, they gave us four packages of meat, which meant we didn’t need to buy that and could use our money to purchase the rest of what we needed,” the mother continued.

Gratitude is frequently expressed by patrons, according to Kohles.

“People appreciate this,” Kohles said. “I see some people every month. I get to hear about how this helps them.”

The many volunteers it takes to run the program express gratitude, too.

“I enjoy it, knowing that I am helping,” said volunteer Carol Martin. “Helping people that are having a hard time and need that extra food to make it by. And it’s fun volunteering and talking to all the different people.”

Another volunteer said she looked forward to this every month.

“I’ve met the nicest people doing this,” said Barb Hines, nodding toward the people moving through the line as she handed out bags of onions and potatoes.

It is a rapid process, attending the mobile food pantry. The quick moving line begins with a check-in, where patrons answer a few questions (no names!) before being assigned a number. Then perhaps a minute or two of sitting and you are being given a cart. Patrons then move along either side of an ‘L-shaped’ line of pallets with volunteers handing out the various food items. Another volunteer helps patrons carry their items to their vehicles and returns the cart for them.

Kohles noted that despite the positive attitude of those volunteering and short amount of time spent getting food, coming to the pantry for those in need can be difficult.  It’s not just the logistics of getting there that makes it difficult for some to seek help, it can be emotional attitude as well.

“Some people feel a real sense of shame at needing help,” Kohles said. She recalled one visit with a woman literally in tears at needing to use the pantry.

Studies of food insecurity worldwide are replete with references to feelings of shame, alienation, and helplessness. And the causes are not only cultural, but physical. Poor nutrition and hunger can both produce and exacerbate those feelings, according to a broad array of research.

Food security is so important that it has been broadly agreed upon as a basic human right since 1948, under Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care…”

The United States was one of 40 countries who signed that United Nations declaration.

For those who want to help either Second Harvest or a local food pantry, you can give time, money, or food. Each organization has it’s own rules.

To volunteer with the Second Harvest monthly visit, contact Lorraine Fortney at 608-735-4690 or Cindy Kohles at 608-872-2184.

Volunteers will be assigned to tasks based on their ability, Kohles noted. The group has people of a wide range of ages helping. The only requirement is the ability to maintain confidentiality of patrons.

Second Harvest prefers money donations as the mobile food pantry is not set up for accepting food donations. Donations may be mailed to:
Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin,
2802 Dairy Drive,
Madison, Wis. 53718. To make a donation by phone with a credit card, or to speak to someone about giving, contact Katie Ishmael at 608-216-7220. You can also donate online at

You can also donate funds, food, and time to the Gays Mills Food Pantry.

The pantry can always use financial support as well as donations of food and hygiene products. For those seeking to offer financial aid, contributions can be sent to the Gays Mills Area Food Pantry, P.O. Box 111, Gays Mills, Wis. 54631.

Donations of goods can be dropped off when the pantry is open on the first, second and third Wednesday of each month from 2 to 4 p.m. and the first Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m. The pantry is located at 210 School Street. For more information about the Gays Mills Area Food Pantry contact Kent Salmon at 624-3454.